Carlos Santana vows to keep his music fresh at Bluesfest

THE joyful energy that pours off stage during a Santana concert is present in bucketloads in a conversation with the band's founder, Carlos Santana.

The man radiates enthusiasm and lust for life - and an aspiration to keep his music fresh.

Talking about what he was likely to offer the Friday night Bluesfest audience this year, he said while there would be material from each of the five decades he had been a star act, it wouldn't be a tour down memory lane.

The show has "a new intro, a new middle and a new ending, and we have a lot of new music", Santana said.

"I know that people want to hear songs they are familiar with - and we have that. But we also have some new energy, some new music that has to be presented."

That music will "absolutely" be fresher even than that heard on 2012's Shape Shifter - their 36th album, which for the first time incorporates Native American influences, yet another ingredient in the melting pot of Santana's rich, multi-coloured sound.

That sound has drawn on Latin, rock, jazz and blues - an endless exploration of genres - with a frequent revision in line-up.

Santana will also be bringing his wife Cindy on tour - part of his celebration of what he sees as "the global family", a move on from the "prehistoric notion of patriotism, whereby people look after each other without distance or separation or superiority or inferiority".

But despite the multiple personnel changes, many of the musicians he will be bringing have been playing with him for years: there's percussionist Paul Rekow, a member since 1976, and vocalist Tony Lindsay, around since '91, and many others from the Supernatural album era.

And while Shape Shifter is a largely instrumental album, long-term vocalist Andy Vargas will also be making the journey.

The album was the result, Santana said, of requests from a lot of people "just wanting to hear a Mexican play the guitar" after his many recordings with guest vocalists.

Does he think of himself in such modest terms?

"I see myself as someone who was very blessed to be on the planet at a particular time, with a lot of great people, from Bill Graham to BB King to Tito Pepe to Miles Davis. A lot of people really went out of their way to call me and shape me like glass, with their advice," he said.

"Not too many people can say that Miles Davis called them at three o'clock in the morning, which he did, and we would talk for a long time about music.

"There's very few people who have that variety, from A-Z, all the colours of the rainbow, from Pablo De Lucia, John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Jaco Pastorius or Stevie Ray Vaughan.

"Very few people have had that input, plus all the African musicians.

"Most people only do yellow. 'I only play yellow,' they say. But I play all the rainbow ... each colour. I like to have an open heart and an open mind, to complement whatever gets in front of me. So far the only thing I haven't done is river dance music, polka and waltzes."

With so many genres calling to him, how does he decide which direction to go in?

"The decision comes from a desire to grow and unfold. As I've been thinking of it in the past few days, it's 'get the hampster outside the cage'," Santana said.

"I don't want to be a hampster rotating in the same merry-go-round. I want to leave the cage and go climb a tree. It's really beautiful to shape shift yourself into an eagle or a dolphin, or a lion."

Such creative drive comes from a willingness to tell your brain to not think so loud, so you can hear your real inner voice, which will constantly bring you something fresh, he said.

"When you wake up in the morning you need to flick the switch: to gratitude, appreciation, desire, aspiration.

"It's okay to not be afraid of words like inspired and horny. All those words are dealing with energy. You don't need pills or stimulants, what you need is to motivate yourself to see everything as if for the first time. You and I need thrust. The concepts of beauty, excellence, elegance, grace, dignity are very, very vibrant and very charging.

"And it's your choice to make yourself an effervescent, vibrant person.

"It is within the individual's power alone to make every day the best of their life."

For his legion of fans, that night at Bluesfest is likely to count as just that: one of the best of their lives.

Bluesfest is at Byron Bay from March 28 to April 1. The festival was nominated as the Best International Music Festival of 2012 in the Pollstar Awards - only the second time in the 24 years of the awards an Australian event has been nominated in this category.

Topics:  bluesfest

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