“Candombe Cumbele,” premiering exclusively below from Santana’s new album Africa Speaks, is more than just its closing track. It is, according to the guitarist and bandleader, “the basket that will hold the things that I want to do in the future.”
That’s a big proclamation, of course, but fitting for a project that has a broad, continental scope that Santana has been working toward for more than 20 years. Composed by Santana, guest vocalist Buika and Easy Kabaka Brown — and produced, like the rest of Africa Speaks, by Rick Rubin — the slinky, high-spirited track, sung in Spanish, represents a kind of shamanistic ritual practice that intrigues Santana.
“It’s a Budu ritual,” Santana explains. “When you hear this, the closest thing we’ve had is on Christmas Eve, when you have the Pope going ‘the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, Nabisco, Fig Newson, Amen.’ You’re drinking the blood of Christ, right, to account for the sins of mankind. That’s a ritual; I don’t care what people call it — anything that has to do with blood and sacrifice is a ritual, whether it’s Catholic or Haiti or Africa or American Indian or whatever. A ritual is a ritual, and ‘Cumbele’ is ground zero.
“Why do humans need ritual?” Santana continues. “It’s a good question. Because humans now have to discover how to connect. You’ve got the phone that connects to the laptop, and the laptop to whatever. The laptop to me signifies the spirit; When you connect with spirit, then all of a sudden you have a different kind of courage and confidence about being connected with absolute nuance. Then you can create miracles and blessings.”
Santana says Africa Speaks was culled from 200 tracks he’d accumulated for the project; 49 were recorded from which the 11 were chosen (13 for a Target exclusive edition). “Sometimes we were recording, like seven songs a day, one right after the other,” Santana says. “Rick is very Zen-like; He doesn’t get in anybody’s grill or face. He’s a little here and there, and he’ll present certain, subtle suggestions. He’s like those Bonzai people who trim the little trees. It makes it easy to work.” And, Santana adds, Rubin was crucial in bringing the album to the finish line. “The way he makes the songs is really epic — it’s like going from a small black-and-white TV to a full 3D. His expertise in creating this panoramic vista for the songs is incredible.”
Santana says the other tracks are “in incubation,” with every plan for them to see the light of day, too. “I plan to invite other people to complete it,” he says, “but for right now I’m really focusing on this particular group (of songs). We felt like this group of songs is telling its own stories, apart from the other ones.”
Santana will be playing some Africa Speaks material during his summer Supernatural Tour, which kicks off June 22 in Phoenix, celebrating not only the 20th anniversary of his Grammy Award-winning Supernatural album but also the 50th anniversary of his band’s recording career. An Africa Speaks tour, he says, will take place during 2020, playing in theaters. This summer he’s also looking forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair and is booked to play on the anniversary weekend at both the Bethel Arts Center (Aug. 17) on the original site and at the embattled Woodstock 50 in Watkins Glen, N.Y. — although like everybody else he’s waiting to see if the latter happens in the wake of financial and other challenges.
“It’s all up in the air, but I’m ready to play at both of them,” says Santana, whose current band will be joined by original percussionist Michael Carabello at those dates. “I remember the energy more than anything, how 550,000 hippies could coexist and live in harmony and unity with no fights. There’s a reason people still talk about the original Woodstock almost like when Jesus was passing gluten-free bread and mercury-free fish at the mountain. Me, personally, I’m bringing more energy and more inspiration and more power than the first time, so I want it all to work out.”