Rock icon Carlos Santana kicks off his latest tour in Tampa tonight. It's the first time the guitarist, 54, has been on the road since the brouhaha over Supernatural's whopping multiple wins at the 2000 Grammy Awards.
"I haven't been on the road for a year and a half," Santana says by telephone from San Francisco. "My tank is full, and I'm ready to go."
Santana relishes performing live, and he says that with precarious world events, the time is right for him to be onstage again. His music, he says, has a message, one that's especially powerful right now. The war in Afghanistan has made the guitarist and Deborah, his wife and partner since 1972, take stock of their spirituality.
"It really crystalizes something that Deborah and I think about. There is a saying, "When the water breaks, the baby gotta come out,' " Santana says. "I'm sure women vibe with that the most. Nevertheless, when the buildings came down, and all those people were sacrificed _ on both sides _ the water broke and the new baby wanted to come out."
Still true to the peace and love ideals of the 1960s, Santana is vehemently antiwar.
"I don't agree nor support one country beating another one in the name of whatever they're naming it: Jesus or Allah or oil, whatever. Whatever god is their god, that's not the god I worship. I worship the god of compassion and unity and harmony."
Ever the optimist, Santana sees the topsy-turvy state of the world as an opportunity for people to come together. "It's gonna bring us closer to understanding that we must get along, with unity and harmony as a human family," he says. "We must do away with the flags and nations and the religions. More people have been killed, massacred in the name of religion and countries, than anything else in the history of this planet."
His music has always incorporated Latin and Afro-Cuban beats and, with Supernatural, calls on artists of diverse ages and ethnic backgrounds. It's all about bringing people together.
"With my music, I always accentuate unity and harmony _ between women and men, everyone," he says. "It starts like that: If you're not in harmony with yourself, if you don't respect yourself, or know or honor things that are sacred, then life is cheap and you're cheap."
Santana says Deborah's love allowed him to learn how to love himself. The two of them, he says, are on a mission to bring compassion and joy to people, and to inspire them to search for higher ideals in their own lives. Music, Santana says, is his tool. Deborah's is her grace and wisdom.
"She's a very striking person to look at," says Santana. "But then she opens her mouth and out comes words that transcend the pope or generals, or presidents. It's so clear and so soft, and so strong at the same time.
"I love her because she has helped me make spiritual progress above all. I am a better man because of her."
Santana says that kind of love can bring out the best in anyone. It makes him feel invincible.
"When I walk into the Grammys or anywhere with her, and people look at her and me, it's the same way that I look at Mr. Harry Belafonte or Mr. Duke Ellington. Obviously we are bringing something to the table. We're not walking around with a price tag saying, "This is how much I'm worth. Or, this is how much it will cost you for me to join your trip.'
"Our principles are basically for the highest good for all people on this planet. So when we walk into a building with dignity and grace, but with a lot of conviction _ I can tell by how people look at her and look at me, that we are bringing something that they wish they have. And, they do have it. They just have to put in the work and the time. She and I put in the time. I know it's not a piece of cake to live with me, and it's not a piece of cake to live with her, but it's like that when you have high ideals and high principles. You're going to clash like that sometimes."
Many popular musicians before him, Santana says, have infused their music with spirituality. That's been an inspiration.
"With Marvin Gaye, even though he was taken out of this world the way he was, you still cannot deny that What's Going On is a supremely spiritual album," Santana says. "Same thing with Bob Marley's Exodus, Aretha Franklin's Amazing Grace."
Still, Santana knows following a rock star's lead on a spiritual quest can get tricky.
"Once in a while we do fall on our faces because we follow passion instead of compassion."
Does Santana feel pressured to top the wild success of Supernatural, which sold more than 13-million copies?
"The only thing I really care about at the end of the day is that my wife is happy, my children are happy with me, that my employees and the people who work with me are happy, and if I am happy with what I did that day," he says. "I don't compete with any of the albums. Or try to imitate or duplicate. Santana is not a gizmo, gadget, gimmick or formula."
He says that the most important thing is pleasing fans.
"When people work really hard doing whatever it is that they do to buy a ticket to come and see you _ you know, you owe it to them. It is an honor. There is no other way to describe it. It is an honor."
Life has blessed him, he says. Some days he recalls his humble beginnings, of being a small boy in Mexico, now a world-famous rock star who travels the globe.
"When I was a child," he says, "I just wanted to be like my dad. He was a musician. He was filled with so much charisma. All the women and men called him Don Jose. It was kind of like a Don Corleone situation, only my family didn't kill anybody." Santana laughs.
"My father was a very beloved person. People just adored him. He played at so many weddings and baptisms. Everyone wanted to be around him. I wanted to be just like that."
The world according to Carlos Santana
The famously outspoken and spiritual guitarist shares some of his philosophies:
ON TERRITORY: I don't believe in flags. I pay my taxes here and I live here, but I honor no flag. I believe in the heart of mankind. I honor the feet of God and the heart of mankind.
We can't be seduced by flags and money and religion. All that stuff is a sign and design to separate humanity from each other.
ON EDUCATION: We must instill in schools not religion or politics, but passion for compassion. There are no schools to teach you how to be a good parent, or a better son. They teach you ABC and 1-2-3 and history.
History is really His Story, not my story, because history is really the Caucasian white man's story. From Europe. The only history of America includes very little Malcolm X or Martin Luther King or American Indians.
ON WOMEN: "Accuracy" in history is not accurate. The new history for this planet _ women must have center stage. All over the world. Instead of being someone's property, women have to step out and say _ sisters, mothers, daughters, wives _ say, "We unite and we're not going to give you what you think you need from us until you give us what we need."
ON RELIGION: I feel that the altar of God is everywhere. I went to Jerusalem, and I've been to Rome. I didn't find God any less or more than I find God in the back of a New York cab.
I think what's sacred about Buddha, Krishna, Allah, Rama, Jesus Christ is how I work with you. How I work with my daughter and my musicians. How I work with people every day in the streets.
Beauty, excellence, elegance, grace and dignity _ that's what's sacred.
ON MUSIC: I just went to see Mr. Placido Domingo for the first time. This year I am going to get into more Italian operas. They had their own way of expressing the blues.
I'm learning. I'm still very open to discovering God's voice in many, many things.
ON HAVING FANS OF ALL AGES: With Supernatural we reached immense amounts of people: parents, grandparents, teenagers, little children. I mean children. I was hanging around with my daughter and 'N Sync and Britney Spears at one event. We all had a mutual admiration for each other.