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Carlos Santana Reinvents His Las Vegas Residency

When you hear the name Carlos Santana, chances are it will trigger a memory – no matter how old you are.

In his 47-year career, the Tijuana-born guitarist has sold more than 100 million records and reached more than 100 million fans at concerts around the world.

Maybe you remember "Blues for Salvador." Or you come from the "Smooth" era. Or maybe you listened to "Game of Love" in college.

Santana, as most of the world knows him, has been living in Las Vegas for several years. He is currently playing a residency at the House of Blues.

We caught up with him at his studios.


What made you come to Las Vegas to live?

All my life I follow this voice. My mom taught me how to listen to it because this voice takes me to a place that most people would call milk and honey, which is being successful, making progress, being happy.

I was afraid that if came to Las Vegas and played here that I would become like a hamster in the same cage, going around and around and around. The same routine. The same everything.

That was very scary, until I realized that no one was telling me what to play or how to play it or anything. I'm still like a chef. I have to deliver this delicious meal, but nobody is telling me what the recipe is or whatever. 

I found that could turn this place into a laboratory. Reinvent myself. I reinvent myself everyday and play the songs in a different way.

Is it just Las Vegas? Haven't you spent your career reinventing yourself?

Yes, but here in Las Vegas I have gained a new knowledge about myself, a new velocity. I've been doing this for a long, long time, more like a delivery paperboy. But now, I get to make the news, not just deliver the newspaper.

And the news is: everyone is worthy of your own light. And you too- whoever you are - wherever you are in the rung of evolution - you too can be magnificent, magnamimous, significant.

Are you reinventing every night?

Sometimes I'll have no set list. I'm just going to go and we're going to try different things. Other times I go and I do have specific intro, a specific middle and a specific end.

We'll move 'The Women' around a little bit. We move "Maria, Maria," "Black Magic Woman," "Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa," because this band more than anything is about making women happy. 

I've said it before and I'll say it until get to the other place and change my ZIP code: the secret of life for me and my profession is making women happy, whether it's with shoes or with songs and melodies. Because when women are happy some how this planet becomes very, very heavenly like. When women are not happy, it is worse than hell. 

Your wife is your percussionist. How has she influenced what you do?

Cindy is a very, very vast angel with preciousness of gentleness and consideration.

Cindy and my son have this quality that is very, very, very high. They are very considerate of other people's hearts and feelings. She is a musician who loves Tony Williams and Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, the highest of the echelons of musicians. I'm able to ask her constantly, 'where is the one in here.' I'm from Tijuana and grew up with this kind of music. I'll ask, 'where is the one in here,' because it is a little vague for me and she'll say, 'oh, here's the one' because she's a drummer and she is a premiere drummer in the world.

What do you look for in musicians?

I want them to not be afraid to light themselves on fire so people can see you from far, far away and come and see them burn. I mean that in a literal sense.

And some people will say, 'well you burn every day, then you die and you won't be able to put on the same show.' Not like that, not like the Buddhist monks that poured themselves in gasoline in Vietnam times. No, no. 

Literally, with your passion fire, you have to burn beyond what you know. You have to convince me that you're willing to die for the next note. 

Tell us about your foundation and why you started it:

It is part of my spirit and my soul to give back. I got this from my mom and my dad. And from the hippies. When I was hanging around in Haight-Ashbury in the beginning when it all started, I realized that it's true everything tastes and feels better when you share it, whether it's ice cream or weed or wine - I won't share my wife - but anything else... a record of Miles Davis "Sketches of Spain," somehow you get more energy when you're sharing, you're offering gifts on any level. 


Carlos Santana, musician

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)
Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.