Carlos Santana is a guitarist, composer, singer and band-leader who helped shape the concept of “world music”. He became famous in the late 1960s and early 1970s with his band, Santana, which pioneered a fusion of rock and Latin American jazz. He did this by experimenting with blending many styles of music from a multitude of ethnic sources.
Carlos was introduced to “traditional music” by his father, Jose. An accomplished mariachi violinist and experienced musician. He taught Carlos the basics of music theory and gave him an understanding of the value of a note. Although Carlos’ excitement for music would be sparked by his first experience, he quickly discovered the limits of its traditional form and wanted more.
When the Santana moved from Mexico to the United States is when he fused his Latin style of playing with styles such as blues and jazz for example. Jazz is a style that has origins from Africa which was brought here through the Atlantic slave trade. Almost 400,000 Africans were brought to North America largely from West Africa and the greater Congo River basin. In doing so the Africans brought strong musical traditions with them. Santana’s love for African rhythms, blues and jazz inspired him to explore different style of ethnic music. He drew his inspiration from Africa; where he believed rhythm is a heartbeat. Santana remarked in his autobiography “I want to talk about Africa. I’ve only been there a few times, but each time I’ve gone the first thing my whole body is thirsty for is rhythms – to hear the music and see the dancers. It’s about connections between us and where we came from. To this day, African music is my number one hunger. I can never get enough of the rhythms, the melodies, the second melodies, the colors, the way the music can suddenly change my mood from light and joyful to somber. If people ask me, I tell them that we play 99.9 percent African music. That’s what Santana does” (Santana). The band’s sound was his melodic, blues guitar lines set against Latin and African rhythms featuring percussion instruments such as timbales and congas not generally heard in rock music.
In the song Soul Sacrifice, a cowbell and Congo which are a set of hand drums that are essential to Cuban music were played. Conga drums roots are in West Africa and evolved into their present form in Cuba. When Santana adds melodic rhythms and percussion, Santana provides are hallmarks of West African and Cuban percussion ensemble. Another example is in the song Africa Bamba.While keeping a relaxed yet lively groove, Africa Bamba combines African and Latin rhythms and makes great use of timbales, congas, and other percussion instruments.
The magic of Santana was expressed through his guitar and his fusion of African rhythms, blues and rock. Without Carlos there would be no such thing as Latin-rock. Santana has positively influenced and shaped America’s music and affected the people that listen to the music, expanding their musical culture and variety, due to Santana’s own influences. This is a great example of how a musician has ethnic influences.