“There’s a melody in everything. And once you find the melody, then you connect immediately with the heart. Because sometimes English or Spanish, Swahili or any language gets in the way. But nothing penetrates the heart faster than the melody.” ~ Carlos Santana
Just as there are celebrated rock singers whose vocals are instantly recognizable (Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks), there are electric guitarists whose signature stylings and timbres we’d know just about anywhere.
Carlos Santana is rightfully ranked among the greatest rock guitarists of all time, alongside such masters as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. When you hear the pure, piercing tone of his guitar as it caresses a melodic line (oh, those amazing solo riffs and sustained notes!), there’s no mistaking whose fiery, impassioned “voice” you’re hearing.
Santana pioneered a unique fusion of rock, blues, jazz, and Latin, African and Cuban rhythms in the late 60’s and early 70’s — a distinctive sound that continues to electrify audiences today. With early hits like “Black Magic Woman” and “Evil Ways,” the rare addition of percussion instruments (congas, timbales) to guitar and organ flavored the music with an old world, positively primal feel. The aptly named, strictly instrumental “Soul Sacrifice,” with its driving polyrhythms and rousing solos, pulsates with an energy that fairly inhabits the listener, taking him/her on a transformative musical journey.
Though I’ve enjoyed Santana’s music since college, I knew very little about Carlos Santana’s childhood, so I was especially pleased to see that New York Times bestselling music biographer Gary Golio had recently published Carlos Santana: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World (Henry Holt, 2018). Illustrated by Pura Belpré Honor and Américas Award recipient Rudy Gutierrez (who created Santana’s iconic Shaman CD cover), this captivating picture book describes Carlos’s early years in Mexico as he seeks a personal, authentic mode of musical expression.
He sprang from humble but musically rich origins. The son of a mariachi player, Carlos witnessed firsthand the power of music not only to entertain, but to lift people’s spirits, make them feel alive. He viewed his father as a true hero, an angel who could “make magic with his fingers” as he played the violin in the church orchestra.
Carlos wanted nothing more than to follow in his father’s footsteps, to make him proud, but how could he learn to play when Papá was gone so much of the time? It was especially hard on the family when Papá left for Tijuana to play in the music clubs patronized by American tourists. Carlos was just six years old. “Money comes in the mail, but money cannot take the place of a father.”
A year later, Carlos’s mother relocated the entire family to Tijuana (1000 miles away), “hoping to find Papá and start a new life.” Though Papá was happy to see his family again, he was displeased with Mamá for disobeying him.
As the family struggled to adjust to life in a strange city, Carlos sold chewing gum on the streets to help them get by and attended an elementary school taught by strict Catholic nuns. There were bright spots, though: after school music classes and violin lessons with Papá, who taught him Mozart along with traditional Mexican songs.
The violin proved to be a tough instrument and Papá, a demanding teacher. Try as he might, Carlos soon realized he didn’t really like the violin.
But he is learning from his father what gives a musician his real strength — playing for each person one-to-one, whether the audience is a small family or an entire town. The sound goes from heart to heart, from player to listener, with a promise of respect between the two.
When he was ten, Carlos began performing for tourists on the streets of Tijuana with two other boys, but he found little joy in playing the same few songs over and over for just a few coins. But one morning his world was changed forever when he heard American blues on the radio. He was blown away by the “raw and honest” songs by musicians like Muddy Waters and B.B. King, and the “sting of electric guitars” that made his ears “sizzle”!
In time, he began to play with his father’s mariachi band in the local cantinas. He yearned to replicate the exciting sounds of the blues he came to love, but there was no place for extra notes or improvisation in mariachi. Papá reminded him that mariachi was “about the song and the singer, not the musician!” But Carlos was adamant: blues was about the musician’s feelings, too, and he wanted his violin to speak for him.
Disheartened by the cantinas — where loud, rude crowds demanded the same songs over and over, showing no respect for the musicians, Carlos told his father he’d had enough: “when I grow up, I’m going to play what I want to play!”
Carlos was miserable playing in the streets again. The more he heard American blues, the more he disliked his violin. When Papá left to work in San Francisco, Carlos was glad there wouldn’t be any more violin lessons.
Worried, Mamá took Carlos to an outdoor concert to hear a local rhythm and blues band. She was happy to see Carlos come to life again, and wrote to Papá, who surprised Carlos with a used electric guitar. Carlos was stunned and ecstatic — now he had an instrument on which he’d be able to play the music he loved in his own way.
Years later, Carlos would move to San Francisco, where he formed a band that played a fresh, new kind of rock ‘n roll, one that was “charged with Latin passion and the raw honesty of American blues.” Just as his father said it should, Carlos’s music was and still is played “one-to-one, player-to-listener, with the feeling and respect it deserves.”
Gary Golio’s engaging narrative focuses on Carlos’s inborn passion for music, his god-given talent, his strong bond with his father, and the challenge of forging his own musical identity. From early on, music represented a kind of magic; it was something spiritual and soul stirring — a dream worth striving for. Music enabled Carlos to communicate the deepest parts of himself, as he sought to integrate his rich cultural heritage with the “new” American blues he loved so much.
Throughout the book, Rudy Gutierrez’s cool synthesis of artistic elements beautifully echoes Santana’s innovative melding of musical influences.
His dazzling mixed media illustrations with their vibrant colors, folkloric motifs, and free-flowing lines and shapes brilliantly capture the exploratory energy, spiritual dimensions and emotional layers of Santana’s music. The recurrence of hearts, angels, wings, birds, and musical instruments, as they swirl around people and places, is an exhilarating blend of ancient and modern with a psychedelic feel.
In these multilayered compositions, reality meets the imagination — it’s a place where abstract impressions embody raw emotion. With winged guitars and blue, green, and purple violin melodies whirling through the air in curlicues, Gutierrez makes the sound of music visible, amplifying its power to liberate.
I also love how young Carlos is pictured throughout the book, from the first depiction of him as a haloed infant bathed in light (called “cristalino,” someone “clear and bright, destined to make a mark in this world” by his aunt), to the many facial close-ups — a dreamy, determined, discouraged, sometimes sad or blissful boy who lived and breathed music. The final heart-shaped spread is a joyous paean to the sixties, celebrating Carlos’s Latin and American roots.
Carlos Santana: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World is a worthy introduction to the groundbreaking musician who created his own brand of “world music” before it was recognized as its own genre. Young readers will be inspired by how Carlos overcame the struggles of an unusual childhood, honoring his gift and staying true to himself. They will be curious to hear his music, and this book will certainly enhance their appreciation of it.
Though Santana has been around for decades, his music, with its unique intermingling of cultures and musical genres, remains fresh, contemporary, and especially relevant as we seek a more inclusive world united in peace and harmony.
From the wayback machine, a classic from Santana’s pivotal performance at Woodstock in 1969. This appearance helped them gain national prominence and propel sales of their eponymous debut album released a couple of weeks later. “Evil Ways” became their first Top 10 hit. Carlos was 22 (I’m digging his goatee). 🙂
Did that take you back? If a lead guitarist doesn’t make faces during his solos, he isn’t feeling it. I love how Carlos feels every single note.
“Black Magic Woman” might be my favorite of Santana’s early stuff. Those opening notes on the Hammond organ, and then Carlos coming in with those piercing single notes never gets old. It’s tribal, voodoo, beautifully orchestrated lust. This is a man’s soul wailing through his instrument (Tanglewood, 1970).
Finally, fast forward to 1999, when Santana collaborated with Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty. “Smooth” earned three Grammy Awards and was ranked the second most popular song of all time by Billboard Magazine. Sassy and sexy, you can’t sit still with this one. Turn it up!!
Okay, that was HOT. Fan yourself and check out the details:
CARLOS SANTANA: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World
written by Gary Golio
illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez
published by Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt, September 2018
Picture Book Biography for ages 5-9, 40 pp.
*Includes Author and Artist Notes, Glossary, and Sources/Resources
**Starred** review from Booklist
The lovely and talented Liz Steinglass is hosting the Roundup. Scamper over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Enjoy your weekend!
* Interior spreads text copyright © 2018 Gary Golio, illustrations © 2018 Rudy Gutierrez, published by Henry Holt, 2018. All rights reserved.
** This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. When you purchase something using a link on this site, Jama’s Alphabet Soup receives a small referral fee at no cost to you. Thank you for your continuing support*
*** Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.