Cindy Blackman Santana and Carlos Santana on “Imagine” and Channeling Creative Energy in Concert

Dean Budnick on June 15, 2020
Cindy Blackman Santana and Carlos Santana on “Imagine” and Channeling Creative Energy in Concert

Cindy Blackman Santana will release a new album Give the Drummer Some, later this year. In the interim, she has shared a taste of what is to come, via her funk-rock version of  John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which also features her husband Carlos Santana. Their goal is to raise money to help feed people whose daily challenges have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The couple has partnered with SongAid to ensure that streaming proceeds from the song will be directed to WhyHunger’s Rapid Response Fund.

As the couple noted upon the release of the song, “ it gives us great joy to share John Lennon’s message of peace and light, together with them, to make a tangible difference in the world and feed those in need. The world is in need of a spiritual hug, healing, and love and it is our hope that the divine intentionality of ‘Imagine,’ combined with the energy, interpretation, and new arrangement, will touch your heart and feed those in need. We are in service to Yoko Ono, and everyone at WhyHunger for the incredible work they are doing and their beautiful mission to feed the hungry.”

What led you to your new arrangement of “Imagine?”

Cindy Blackman Santana: The song itself is timeless with its message. It’s timeless with its simplicity and it’s timeless in the way that you can deliver it because it goes right to someone’s heart. It goes right to your core so you can really feel the song and that’s what has drawn the song to me since I was a child and first heard it. I’ve always loved the song.

We were in the studio, and my producer of all the vocal tracks NaradaMichael Walden asked me what song I would want to do if we were to do a cover because we were doing all originals. “Imagine” was the number one choice for me so we put together an arrangement. Narada said, “How would you like to do it?” And I said, “We have to do it differently. It should be funk or funk-rock or something.” He said, “Okay. How do you like the way Lenny Kravitz did his version of ‘American Woman?’” I said, “I love it, I think it’s really cool.”

So he put together an arrangement in that vein and we took off from there. I put down my drum tracks and Carlos played incredible guitar on it. I changed the vocal phrasing the way I would phrase it for the feel that we were going for. We added a nice tag on the end to really involve people and to drive home the message of “Imagine” and all the love that John Lennon was emitting from this song.

Carolos, how would you describe the approach and inspiration for your solo?

Carlos Santana: Cindy and Narada Michael Walden created this wonderful bed for me to jump in. When I heard the song, I didn’t even hear “Imagine,” I just heard an opportunity to flame on and burn. I just rolled up sleeves and said, “Okay!” It’s got that Metallica, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix take-no-prisoners vibe. The song already has the collective consciousness and commonality of John Lennon so when I heard what they’d done, I started playing energy music with that sheer determination fire.  

How do you view the role of musicians during a moment of crisis like this?

Cindy: It’s all very individual because that’s what music is: it’s about individuality. But I feel like music is the greatest way to communicate. It definitely surpasses language because you can play music for someone who speaks a completely different language than you and you can communicate. My best friend when I was about 12 was a deaf mute, his name was Doug. He was so happy when he would come to my house, go down to the basement, and I would play my drums. He could feel the rhythm, he would dance. That taught me what a great communicator music is. At this point, I think music and musicians are really the crown jewels of a time like this because we can deliver messages that touch people in their hearts, that make them remember love, as John Lennon said, remember love. We can make them remember love, we can help them see their own light and we can communicate with them beyond being able to be in the same room as them. I think that music and musicians have a very important role to play and have had throughout history.

Carlos: We’re talking about offering the listener hope and courage. That’s what we need more than anything. Personally, because God has blessed me so much going back to Abraxas and the first album, I would play for free. I would play for free for the rest of my life to bring healing and comfort to my sisters and brothers on all the Indian reservations. I would play for free for my sisters and brothers in Africa so they can have shoes and uniforms to go to school. I would play for free the rest of my life to invite people to see that we can feed each other clothe each other and educate each other.

It used to be that Bill Graham would fill up a 747 with Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Bono and they’d go and play concerts help a cause, very rightly so. People also looked to the Pope and the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. Now, I think people are looking towards Bill Gates and other people who have big pockets and good hearts.

If you want to make a tangible difference, play “Imagine” “One Love,” “Blowing in the Wind,” “A Love Supreme” and other songs that raise the frequency of high consciousness. That’s what this is about now. This is how we can quench the spiritual thirst of the multitudes in the world. People are thirsty for impeccable integrity and righteousness.

Can you point to a live show you saw when you were growing up that set you down your current path?

Cindy: I wanted to play drums before I ever went to a concert or went to a show. I didn’t even know what a concert or a show was, I just saw drums and immediately fell in love with them. When I started seeing people perform, the first things that I saw were smaller performances like in theaters, small clubs, and places of that nature. It wasn’t until a little bit later that I started seeing concerts in really large venues. The first one I saw when I was still living in Ohio–where I’m from–was Average White Band with Wild Cherry [Laughs]. What I liked about that was the vast amount of people who were there all focusing with the same kind of energy, that’s what I got from that concert. I really liked that aspect. It got my wheels turning even at 10 years old in terms of energy output and numbers of people being together at the same. You can put out energy yourselves, but when you do it with more people doing the same thing, the energy just gets bigger. It really got my wheels turning in terms of thinking about the energy output that human beings have inside of us. I didn’t know quite how to express it at 10 years old, but I did start thinking about it at that point. So that’s what that concert did for me.

The next time I saw a large concert was Earth, Wind & Fire and they had Deniece Williams opening for them. I saw other concerts and other shows that were smaller in number and some even more powerful. Like I saw Tony Williams do a drum clinic with just himself and a bass player and it was the most exciting, most innovative thing I’d seen in my life.. That’s how it happened for me, really thinking about the magnitude of reaching people and then of course seeing other groups made me think about other aspects of the music as well.

Carlos: The gentleman’s name–and he’s still alive–is Javier Bátiz. In Tijuana, my mom saw that my father had gone to San Francisco, so I wasn’t learning to play music. I said, “Well, Dad’s not around, so I’m not going to learn to play as much.” So my mom was concerned that all the things he taught me would be wasted. So she grabbed me by the hand, he took me to the park in Tijuana, and there was this band called the TJs and Javier Bátiz was playing guitar. He was a combination of B.B. King, Little Richard and Ray Charles, and he still is. When I heard the sound of the guitar bouncing across the trees and the cars and the church across the street, I just said, “Oh shit.” It was like watching a flying saucer for the first time and I just knew right there and then that this is a doorway to my destiny. I know I can do that, I know I can be that, I just didn’t know to what extent. So I always thank Javier for that because by him being who he is, it allowed me to see that I can get on stage with B.B. King or Eric Clapton.

Carlos, in terms of being an audience member, I was at an amphitheater in Hartford when you were on tour with Jeff Beck back in the 90s. Someone was dancing in the front row, while most of the people were seated. An usher came over and told this guy to sit down. You noticed this and in the middle of a song you walked over to the lip of the stage and yelled to the usher to let the fan continue to dance and express himself. I’d never seen that before and I haven’t since. Is that a common experience for you?

Carlos: One time I saw a hilarious situation. We played in Washington D.C. in this very prestigious theater and as soon as we hit the first note–people were sitting down–somebody ran from the back with his hands up, just flipping out. He was saying “hallelujah” and he was crying and laughing. Then the security ushers went after him like the gestapo or something.

So this person just stopped, and in front of everybody, he put his index fingers up like a cross in front of those guys like they were Dracula. Everybody started laughing because those two guys looked like such jerks. He was saying everything without saying anything, the way he put up those two index fingers like the exorcist. I started laughing so hard myself because the security guards just melted, they felt like such schmucks because nobody was paying them to be such over the top bullies. That guy was saying, “I can’t help myself when Santana plays. It’s like a revival and you’re telling me not to be excited. Are you crazy?” So I learned from that guy and I do what I can, when I can.

Our next issue of Relix will focus on the “Power of Live.” What do those words mean to you?

Cindy: There are two things that immediately come to mind. One was the drum clinic that I mentioned that I with Tony Williams because it was so incredible, so powerful, so innovative and the sound was so amazing. All my friends at the time were going to see Star Wars and for me, I went to see that movie but I had seen Tony two nights before I went to see the movie and then I was bored at Star Wars after seeing Tony play. That’s how powerful that was.

There was another moment when I saw Miles Davis play. He quieted his band down so softly that you could hear a piece of cotton fall to the floor. That’s how soft they were playing. He was walking around the stage and he came over to our side of the stage, he looked at my friend and me, and he started playing his trumpet at us. That sound was so magnificent, it touched me so much that I can still hear it in my head today. This was in 1981 or 1982 and I can still hear that sound now. So the “power of live” is energy and vibration moving the air, moving molecules, really touching people. You can really feel the force of nature because we’re all channels. The creative energy is coming through us and we are channeling that to you. You can really feel that when you’re at a live concert.