November 10, 2005

Santana: All That I Am

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Upstate New York went wild in the summer of 1969: altered states of mind prevailed and kept the music exotic while the concept of sobriety was probably out of the question. The historic Woodstock Arts Festival was in full swing and a young Mexican guitarist with a trademark moustache and electric fingers hit the stage with his band and set the world ablaze.

Carlos Santana has been around since 1966 and since then has grown through wars, spiritual movements, cultural shifts and self-transformations. His newest release, All That I Am, is perhaps even more universally marketable than Shaman and Supernatural. In addition to its Spanish tracks and classic rock life, it features collaborations with Sean Paul, Michelle Branch, Mary J. Blige, Los Lonely Boys, Big Boi (of Outkast), Joss Stone, (of the Black Eyed Peas) and Kirk Hammett (of Metallica) among others.

Santana’s 1999 release, Supernatural, is resented by some because he came back into the music scene by gaining fame off of other artists. However, his somewhat “formulaic” process has evolved into a component of his tendency towards amalgamation.

Santana was originally introduced to music by his father, a Mariachi violinist, but later developed his unique style and musical outlook in the clubs of Tijuana, the diverse San Francisco scene and the buffet of sounds along the way to All That I Am.

Blues, jazz, African percussion and Latino spirit blended in with soulful distortion make up the heart of the album and the respective collaborations only further enhance his work. Santana is not the type of name that needs to piggyback on the successes of other people.

A master of his craft and a legendary musician, Santana has always exemplified the pinnacle of the music scene with a career that has lasted five very unique decades. Forty-five albums later, the jam retains more of his original style than people will give him credit for. All That I Am’s two introductory tracks, “Hermes” and “El Fuego,” reflect the nostalgia that old school Santana fans are probably craving. “Hermes” feels like The Doors meets Mexico, which gives it fusion in two dimensions: time and space. “El Fuego” is reminiscent of the music that garnered Grammys for Santana and his band in the ’80s and seems to echo parts of “Corazon Espinado” from Supernatural.

Santana’s electric chemistry with Michelle Branch’s soulfully emotive voice reunites in the album’s first single, entitled “I’m Feeling You.” The pop song is also the album’s first released single. Recapping on past success, the producers probably found it most appropriate to release, but the song gives a misleading account of what All That I Am is all about. Although it’s an enjoyable song, it really only gives a superficial glance of what is going on behind the scenes. The voice of Jessica Harp, the second voice in The Wreckers, also resonates in the background. A group which Harp started with Branch, The Wreckers is often featured on WB shows. The whole teenage pop dimension may seem enlightening to a degree, but in essence degrades the quality of Santana’s repertoire.

The work done with Kirk Hammett of Metallica and Robert Randolf in “Trinity” is especially stunning. The track combines musical traditions from one of the most experienced rock bands of the ’80s and ’90s with the Latin American counterpart that had paved the way for longevity in previous generations.

The chill-out track on the album is “I Am Somebody” featuring the Black Eyed Peas’ The track begins with a subtle patter of drums and a reserved guitar strum which is brought to life with a jolting electric guitar. The Latin horns are lively, the vocals are uplifting and sincere, while the message is optimistic.

The bluesy Tex-Mex showcased by Los Lonely Boys demonstrates somewhat of a “passing of the torch” on Santana’s part in “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love.” The genres click perfectly and while lyrics are a splice and dice of English and Spanish, the universal language of music binds both in a spool of deep thoughts and blazing solos.

Santana’s “new” collaborative format may have stirred many critics as dull and overdone; however, it’s probably going to stick around for a while. After all, producers, consumers and the band find it to be a creative blend that enthralls the ear. Although the pop collaborations are subtly crippling, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 50 years and more records than anyone else on the charts speak for themselves. Santana is alive and going strong, aging to perfection in his form and continuing with innovative collaborations.

Archived article by Aniq Rahman
Sun Contributor