20 November 2009

Me and Carlos

Here's the situation:

I wrote this paper for my favorite class and I'm immensely disappointed with it. The objective was to REPORT on a topic relative to Latin America. I took this as a sign that it should be a formal paper dismissing any idea of personal opinions on my topic or anecdotes specific to my life. I chose Carlos Santana as my topic and went from there. It was a very short paper - clocking in at only three double spaced pages so I didn't have much room for all the information I managed to find.

My problem is that it ended up more like a biography than anything else. I chose to concentrate more on his upbringing in Mexico than anything else because I wanted to put the theme of Latin America out there but I'm still not satisfied. I wanted this paper to be great and although I don't know my grade yet, I'm disappointed in myself and I need to feel better about it somehow. I'm hoping by putting it up here maybe it will look better in my eyes or someone might enjoy the detailed information on Santana - probably silly. I set out with the goal of impressing my fantastic professor but ended up faltering under the pressure. I wish I could redo this whole thing and come up with a fresh idea rather than the same old "report" nonsense. I hope I'm just being too hard on myself. I can't tell - I just wanted to impress this special teacher so much that the writing ended up being cold and scared rather than warm and telling.

November 19, 2009

Carlos Santana: Finding Spiritual Ecstasy through Music

“I want the audience to be reminded that before they had all this stuff, this DNA and flesh and bones, they were made out of light. And so what we want to do is not blind people but illuminate people.”

The life of world renowned musician Carlos Santana is nothing if not a vast collection of contradictions that add up to one of the greatest international tales of stardom in recent history. His story is one full of God, women, LSD, John Coltrane, and of course, some of the best guitar playing around, good enough for him to be named the 15th greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2003. He’s sold over 90 million records throughout his career and reached over 100 million fans through his many years of international touring. He was hailed as "the original crossover star who ignited rock 'n roll with Latin music" by Billboard Magazine and was honored this year with the Billboard Lifetime Achievement Award during the Latin Music Awards ceremony. The press release quoted him as saying, "Whether Puerto Ricans, Mexicans like it, I represent the highest there can be... I'm really important to the Latin community. I might not be what you want me to be, but I represent you” (Cobo 10). This contradiction of representing an entire community on a global scale and yet feeling guilt for not living up to everyone's expectations is echoed in many of Santana’s sentiments.

Born in Autlan de Navarro, in the Mexican state of Jalisco in 1947, Santana was raised in a musical environment, introducing him early to the sounds of waltzes, polkas, tangos, and mariachi music his father would play to support the family around towns nearing the U.S. border like Tijuana where the family eventually moved when Santana was around 12 years old. With his father’s encouragement, Santana first began playing the violin although he never felt entirely comfortable with the instrument or playing his parent’s traditional Mexican music. As he stated to Rolling Stone in 2008, “I joined my father in the streets, playing boleros but I had my ear on Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley. They went deep, and each note carried something important. I knew, from a long time ago, the difference between notes and life. I’d rather play life” (Fricke 58). These varied inspirations were the first inklings of Santana’s now signature fusion of blues, jazz, rock, and Latin percussion.

While growing up in Mexico, Santana started learning English by watching television programs through the windows of neighboring houses and was sent out with his brothers to sell gum on the streets or shine shoes for some extra cash. Occasionally, once he started playing guitar, Santana would sing Mexican folk songs for spare change (Heath 38). Eventually, he landed a job, while still underage, at a strip club in Tijuana where he worked for two years and attributes much of his lessons in professional musicianship. As he discussed in an interview, “I learned a lot about how the music helps a woman to walk when she’s onstage; otherwise she can look stupid. I noticed that if the drummer wasn’t playing the rhythm right, (the stripper) would take her high heels and throw them at him” (White 14). This seemed to have left a lasting impression.

Not only did Santana use this experience as inspiration in his musical career when creating beats that would bring people to a “spiritual orgasm” (14) but much later, as part of his flourishing entrepreneurship, designing a line of women’s footwear called Carlos by Carlos Santana which has now brought in about $100 million in sales since its development and he continues to credit the women he has met in his life with his success. He even manages to mention this gratitude in a short foreword written for the book Voices of Latin Rock: The People and Events That Created This Sound along with a message to the future contributors of Latin Rock: “If our history can challenge the next wave of musicians to keep moving and changing, to keep spirituality hungry and horny, that’s what it’s all about.” As one of the most successful musicians in history – and of any ethnic background – Santana has kept to this somewhat contradictory formula, a culmination of spirituality and sensuality.

Santana consistently mentions his deep belief in angels, devils, God, and the ghosts of his musical heroes that he believes visit him in times of crisis. "The energy of devils and angels is the same energy; it's how you use it. It's fuel. There is a saying: If you scare all your devils away, the angels will go with them” (Heath 38). His views on these topics are the main focus of many interviews like this one with Rolling Stone in 2000 in which he also states for the first time that he was molested as a child in Mexico by an American man who was a friend's father. He blames this for his problems with "guilt, shame, judgment, and fear" that he was forced to overcome for years and says the product of eradicating this was 1999's critically acclaimed Supernatural album that not only garnered eight Grammy Awards but revitalized his career, raising it to an even higher level than it ever was before (38).

In the years since, Santana continues to add to his astounding list of endeavors that most recently includes starting the Milagro Foundation, to help impoverished children around the world, the social networking program Architects of a New Dawn, which advocates global change through the power of positive thinking, and an upcoming residency in Las Vegas where he will perform 36 concerts a year through 2010. As recently as last year, Jon Parales of The New York Times gave Santana a glowing review for a concert performed at Madison Square Garden. Among other superlatives he stated, "Mr. Santana is a virtuoso and crowd pleaser with a mission - still, long after the '60's, reaching for ecstasy."

Carlos Santana is an illuminating example of how impossible it is to cage someone inside a stereotype. He is a man that not only came from a small town in Mexico and made himself into one of the greatest names in the music business for over three decades but allowed people all over the globe, from Peru to New Jersey, to grow up with his music and challenge their own beliefs about race and culture. He represents not only Mexicans, not only Latinos, but a universal group of soul searchers continuously creating contradictions in their own lives and continuously looking for that balance between angels and devils.


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