Review: Santana’s new ‘Africa Speaks’ rips and roars

Maryanne Bilham
“Africa Speaks” could be the most important portrayal of Santana the man, and Santana the band, since their arrival at Woodstock 50 years ago.
Maryanne Bilham photograph

Ethnically eloquent. Rhythmically astounding and compelling, and still often in unexpected ways. One hundred percent exclusive. If Carlos Santana feels it in his heart, those virtues bleed through the tips of his fingers, his guitar playing then electrifying whatever other extraordinary musicians are in the room with him, and thus the listener. Never underestimate the gusto of a 71-year-old supremely talented, spiritually minded hippy.

Santana is on a roll. “In Search of Mona Lisa” earlier this year made the case that he’s still quite vital and dead-serious about making an impact, and that followed “IV” and “Live at the House of Blues,” a pair of albums documenting the reunion of most of the original, “classic” Santana band, in classic shape.

But “Africa Speaks” could be the most important portrayal of Santana the man, and Santana the band, since their arrival at Woodstock 50 years ago. As produced by Rick Rubin, the album should challenge all, and enlighten most. Time spent with it guarantees dividends paid 10 times over.

Endlessly fascinating rhythms and verses connect the unique sound of Santana — instinctive to Mexico but raised amid the flower power of San Francisco — to its ancestral source in Africa. The percussive Latin energy of “Batonga” may immediately call to mind Santana in ‘69, but for the startling voice of Buika. As a featured guest, the Spanish chanteuse sings all the lead vocals, infusing the album with inimitable soul and an implicit tribal character.

Current Santana frontmen Andy Vargas and Ray Greene sing wonderfully in the background, in deference. Buika’s importance here cannot be overstated. Her voice rises and falls fabulously with the intensity of the tempos driven by this incredible version of the Santana band. Every song features Carlos Santana lacerating the air with a magnificent, multi-faceted solo, the razor-sharpness of them fashioned from his own distinctive, metamorphic rock. Each works in harmony and/or in ideal contrast with the song.

Never has fire and elegance coexisted so naturally within a note. The heat from Santana’s guitar at the close of the bluesy, utterly stirring “Yo Me Lo Merezco” alone could melt a section of rebar. Emotions flow beautifully, and flare often. “Oy Este Mi Canto” shakes with pride, “Bembele” boogies amid dreamy rhythms, and “Los Invisibles” pounds like the pressure of a Miami night club packed with highly adorned flesh. Every song contains hooks that sink in deep and intoxicate fully. Carlos Santana’s trajectory continues to climb, and climb steeply. The making of “Africa Speaks” was a bold move that succeeded wildly.

— Tom Clarke

  • Santana
     ‘Africa Speaks’
    Label: Concord Records
    Release: June 7, 2019

Maryanne Bilham
Spanish chanteuse Buika sings all the lead vocals, infusing the album with inimitable soul and an implicit tribal character.
Maryanne Bilham

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 25 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, Los Lobos, and the Allman Brothers Band and its ever-growing family tree. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Kudzoo, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen have raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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One Response

  1. I’m most of the way through listening to this, and it’s a great album.

    It does seem to have a significant minority of poor reviews at amazon.com by people who say they have all Santana’s albums but don’t like this one. I can’t for the life of me understand why, for the reasons given in the review above. Unbelievable that he (and his band, of course) can still make such great, relevant music 50 years after the original Santana album.

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