Though he’ll definitely be revisiting Woodstock in some way, Carlos Santana will be looking decidedly forward, not back, during a nostalgia-rich 2019.
In addition to the landmark festival performance, next year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Santana band’s debut album — and the 20th of the multi-platinum, Grammy-gobbling Supernatural. But Santana’s focus will be on new music, first with a Mona Lisa EP on Jan. 25, and then with a new album produced by Rick Rubin. “A lot of musicians, for whatever reason, they get stuck in a jukebox from the ’60s or ’70s or ’80s,” Santana, who has been keeping busy with a MasterClass session on the art of the guitar, tells Billboard. “I call it regurgitation nostalgia, and I don’t want to be there. I learned from Miles (Davis) and Wayne (Shorter) and Herbie (Hancock) to keep moving and keep discovering. Yes, honor those (old) songs because people do come to see you, but make them fresh, restructure them with innocence and meaningfulness and significance but move on into the next level, which is 2019 and 2020.”
Mona Lisa is a three-part suite that was inspired by a visit to see the actual Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris. The opening “Do You Remember Me,” which was produced by Rubin, is an elegant tone poem that incorporates some of the onstage improvisations Santana has made a part of his live performances of the Supernatural hit “Smooth.” “In Search of Mona Lisa” — produced, along with the closing “Besame Mucho – Lovers From Another Time” by Narada Michael Walden — is more upbeat and “more radio friendly, along with Bo Diddley,” according to Santana. Jazz bass legend Ron Carter guests on “Besame Mucho” as well.
“These pieces were coming along,” Santana says, “and after the second one my wife (Cindy Blackman) said, ‘Hey, this sounds really great. Why don’t we try another one and do a trilogy?’ I saw the Mona Lisa and the creative started from me having enough gratitude and confidence from all the things I learned from my teachers.”
The full album, meanwhile, will be out “between spring and summer,” according to Santana, the product of 10 days in the studio with Rubin during which he and his band recorded 49 songs. “And they’re killin’, man — you won’t believe the energy in the songs,” Santana gushes. “There were only two or three songs that we did twice — everything else was done in one take, and we were doing, like, five to seven songs a day. It feels like a blur. They’re all African music from different musicians I love. I’m not bragging, but I have this spirit with the band that they trust me to say ‘That one’s done, let’s go to the next one…'”
Santana adds that he may consider playing the Supernatural album in its entirety at some point, but the one point of nostalgia he is focused on is Woodstock. “We’ve talked to (Woodstock co-founder) Michael Lang, but we don’t know if he has secured a place,” Santana says. “If they invite me, I’m in.” In the meantime he’s booked his own show at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on the site of the original festival. “Woodstock and Supernatural, I view them as a gimongous door that I walked through to the other side,” Santana explains. “They took me to places I never dreamed were possible…and that just inspires me to keep reaching and searching with everything else I do.”