Salvador Santana is one of the rare artists that can claim that music truly flows through his veins. His maternal grandfather was blues pioneer Saunders King and his paternal grandfather was the internationally celebrated violinist and mariachi bandleader Jose Santana. And, of course, his father is legendary guitarist Carlos Santana. Salvador began playing the drums at age three–sitting on his father’s lap, controlling the snare and tom, as his father worked the hi-hat and kick drum–but his true love was discovered when he began taking piano lessons when he was six. Later, he studied at the heralded Ruth Asawa School of the Arts before attending Cal Arts in Valencia, CA. His education, passion and lineage have turned Santana into a monster on the keys. As he will tell you, it wasn’t that he chose a career in music, rather it chose him. Today, Salvador finds himself blazing his own musical trails as an accomplished musician who has been thrilling audiences at both venues and outdoor festivals throughout Northern and Southern California and plans to continue touring for the remainder of 2012. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this musician on the rise to discuss the development of his style, his evolution as an artist, the lessons he has learned along the way, as well as what the future holds for him in the years to come.
You come from a musical family, obviously. What are your first memories of music in your life?
I have to say that the first memories of music in my life are being around 2 or 3 years old, my father picking me up, putting me on his lap and giving me a pair of drumsticks and allowing me to play on the drums at a very young age. He was sitting on the drum stool and controlling the high hat, as well as the bass pedal and bass drum. I was able to bang around on the tom-toms, snares and cymbals. That is one of my early recollections of not just listening to music but also playing music. I think it was very important from my father’s standpoint to have me understand rhythm and tempo at a very young age, before I could dive into the wonderful world of harmonies, pitches, chords melodies and things of that nature. That is one of my earliest memories of performing and listening to music.
What drove you to make music your career, as opposed to taking a different path?
Ya know, I think music has always been there for me, obviously. It had such an impact on my life at an early age. With that said, I think, inevitably, I didn’t end up choosing music as a career as a path. I think music ended up choosing me! [laughs] It ended up choosing me to represent it. It wanted my take on it, if you will. It was inevitable. No matter what profession I would have chosen, somewhere along the way, even if I had decided to be a veterinarian, a local trash man, a mailman or whatever, I would have still come home at the end of a long day and sat down to make some music. It is just so meaningful to me and it has always been there for me in my life.
Who were some of the influences who helped shape you musically?
There are so many musical influences I have had over the years. Some of them, I have had the opportunity and honor to meet in person, as a matter of fact. As a pianist and a keyboardist, one of them happens to be Herbie Hancock, who is a huge influence in my musical career. Having the opportunity to hang out with him and meet with him on a few occasions has been a dream come true for me, not just one jazz pianist to another, but also as a fan speaking to him. It has been unbelievable! And for him to take the time to tell me he has checked out some of my work and that he really appreciated and dug it …
Wow! That’s got to be an incredible experience!
Yeah! I looked up to the sky, pointed and said, “Thank you, God. If you want to, you can take me now because I feel great!” [laughs]
Tell us a little about how you began developing your style.
Certainly! Coming from the San Francisco Bay area and having being raised there, it is multicultural and very diverse. It has such a fusion of art, culture, food and everything in between. Growing up there, it was very difficult to involve myself in just one style or listen to just one style of music. I felt like it was easier for me to listen to it all as it was being presented to me. What I mean by all types of music is Latin, Jazz, Classical, Hip Hop, Rock ‘N’ Roll, Reggae and if there is anything else I left out, it is because it would be an even longer list! There is so much stuff out there. For me, it is already so complex to put all of that into one sound and much more, so the idea is to make things as simple as possible when we already know they are complex. With that said, it is just so much easier for me as a person to incorporate all of these different genres that have impacted and resonated with me over the course of my career and life. That being said, that is really all that I know how to do — combine different styles of music. It is similar to what my father has done over the years. I guess I am just doing it with what speaks to the people of this generation and to the music that comes out of my generation. At the end of the day, I just want people to take the time to listen to it and enjoy it in the same way I have enjoyed creating it!
What can you tell us about your typical writing process and how you bring a song to life?
It depends. It is a situation by situation basis. There will be times where I am just going through my normal day. I could be driving or stuck in traffic and an idea will come into my head. It could be lyrical that is catchy or something that is melodic or musical that just comes into my head. I just have to be prepared to dedicate the time and energy to remembering it since I am not in a place to record it or have a device, that is hands free of course, in that situation! [laughs] I have to be able to put myself in the position both physically and mentally to retain the idea — to hold onto it and not let go! Usually when I write, it is music first, lyrics second but there are times where the music comes first and the lyrics follow. For the most part, it happens when I least expect it, so I always have to be present to take down the idea and make sure it is retained.
You recently put out an album, “Keyboard City.” What was the biggest challenge presenting itself with that project?
Just having patience! Almost like I touched on in my last answer. Just having the patience, having the encouragement and staying excited about the process. It is a long and enduring process when you are creating an album, it takes a lot of time, dedication, energy and you have to have a lot of patience, not just for the people who are working for and with you but also with yourself. You have to keep telling yourself it is not about reaching the destination but enjoying the process and the journey of the creation. Like you said, I did just put out the album. “Keyboard City,” if anyone is interested it is available at www.salvadorsantana.com, however, I put out a couple of records before that and each one has been a different process. I was working with different people on each different record but all in all, I have taken the same lesson away from each experience. That lesson was to keep remaining patient, keep having confidence and know that at that moment I am doing what I am supposed to be doing and everything that is happening is supposed to be happening for its own specific reason. Sometimes we can question it then but sometimes we just have to let it go, persevere and keep it moving. I have had a lot of fun doing all of the projects that I have been involved with and I am looking forward to getting myself involved in many more.
Looking back on your body of work, how do you feel you evolved since you first embarked on this music journey?
I definitely feel like I have evolved as an artist! That is for sure! I am just not quite sure how. I think I am just continuing to be in a place where, mentally, I have confidence because I have gained that much more knowledge through experience. The experiences that I have been a part of and through working with people have really allowed me to grow. At the same time, I feel like in order to stay motivated, you can’t really settle. I feel like there is more that I can be doing and more I could be involved with both inside and outside of music. I am inspired by my parents and through my family, always. I feel the need to offer my services, not only through music but through philanthropy and getting involved in an assortment of non-profit organizations and whatnot. For me, it is bigger than the music! I think I have evolved not just as an artist musically but also as a person. The idea is to again remain patient with yourself and therefore remain patient with others to absorb, to retain more information and more knowledge that is beneficial to oneself. The other thing is to enjoy it, to enjoy what you are doing. I know work is work and it’s not supposed to be fun, it’s work! At the same time, I feel really blessed that I get to wake up every morning and go to work and do something that I truly love. People seem to enjoy watching me do what I do. I am forever grateful and forever blessed and that in itself keeps me motivated. I know it is bigger than what I am going through and what I am doing. There are people who need music, a positive distraction in their lives. That is what gets me up everyday, the fact that I can positively distract someone in their life with this beautiful thing we call music!
You mentioned philanthropy. I know you are involved with quite a few great projects. What can you tell us about that part of your life?
Absolutely! I just did a benefit concert for an organization I became aware of through my mother, Deborah Santana. Her organization, which is called Doalittle.org. Through her organization, I got involved with a very small but unbelievable girls school in Kenya called Daraja Academy. You can visit their website at www.daraja-academy.org. I was just a part of a benefit concert where it was myself on piano performing for a variety of different artists and people who decided to come along to learn and dedicate their time and energy to raising awareness about the school. It was great to be a part of! Everyone liked the music and for me, I said, “I am here for Daraja. We are here for the same reason and goal, so I am happy to raise awareness and get the message out there.” Education is important and these young girls, specifically, just like everyone in this world, they have a voice that needs to be heard. They have leadership qualities and these are the people we need to focus on in order to help us persevere in the future. The one thing we all have in common, the one fear we have in common and that is the fear of the unknown. We want to make sure that the human race can develop these leaders of the new school and make sure they can lead us to a brighter future without fear.
Most importantly, after the benefit concert, we raised quite a lot of money that evening. I want to say close to $150,000 that evening and it has progressed since then. That is really what I am talking about — involving yourself anyway that you can with a collection of people that also have the same goal in mind. When you offer your services however you can for the betterment of humanity and a great cause, you can’t go wrong. I have nothing but positive things to say about it! www.daraja-academy.org, they are just great! It is a wonderful school. Jason and Jenny, the couple that turned us onto this school, are awesome people. I just recommend everyone to check it out and get involved. It is truly wonderful.
Jumping back to your music, you recently released a video for “Into The Light.” What can you tell us about the song, making that video and any plans for future music videos?
Oh, absolutely! I am always planning for more videos. We just need the songs first! [laughs] They are in the works! I am working on writing some new material, as we speak. “Into The Light,” very similarly to what we have been discussing, is about offering a positive distraction in a world full of negativity. That is basically what the song is about. I got together with Mr. Barrett Yeretsian, who recently co-wrote a song with Christina Perri called “Jar of Hearts,” which is blowing up all over the place. Just before that happened, he and I got together in Los Angeles. We just sat down, kinda like what you and I are doing, and started discussing ideas, talking about what we wanted to do and what message we wanted to put out there. All of a sudden, Barrett started playing these chords on the piano and I said, “Oh, that’s nice! What is that?” He said, “I don’t know, I just started to play it!” It was really cool, so I took those chords and made this pattern, which is what you hear when the song starts. That piano intro is literally how the song started and we took it from there. I took it home and, with a buddy of mine, added some lyrics to it. Next, I got our female vocalist, Alex Nester, who is featured on the video and on the song, I brought her into the studio to see how it would sound if she sang on it, as opposed to me or a male vocalist. She came in and the rest is history! [laughs] I am just so grateful and happy about the way everything played out in that situation. I couldn’t have asked for a better result, both sonically and visually. Lyrically, I wanted the song to really stand out. It is current and it pertains to what has been happening and what is happening right now, recently in the past 10 to 15 years. I also think it is relevant to what will be happening in the near future. I wanted it to be kinda like, not that it is, but I wanted it to be kinda like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” You can pop that record on and, even though you can tell that record came out in the ‘70s from its orchestration and how it sounds, but when you listen to it lyrically, the things Marvin is talking about are still relevant, even to this day. This was almost four years ago. I wanted this record to be timeless and classic. I wanted it to be relevant now, relevant then and relevant forever. As long as there is war, “Into The Light” will always be relevant because it talks about that 1% in a 99% world of darkness. We want to offer that there is that glimmer of hope in a world of darkness and that we need to keep focusing on that because that is what it is all about — getting into the light.
What is the best piece of advice someone gave you in regards to your career in music you can pass on to others?
I will keep it short and sweet. When someone says, “No,” and offers you discouragement instead or encouragement, just smile and keep telling yourself that it is nothing personal. Keep doing what you love to do. Be yourself and don’t let anyone else discourage you or disrupt your creative flow while you are on your path. No matter what, everyone can do something that someone else can’t do. It is all about capitalizing on that and utilizing it to spread positivity and so you can validate people with that positive distraction. They need that reassertion that, “I am a person. I am validated and I deserve to be happy and jump around when I listen to this music. No one can tell me I am acting like a fool!” It is all about doing what you love to do and being yourself. When you are being yourself and having fun as a musician on stage performing, when people see you having fun, they realize that they are allowed to have fun too! Then they can have fun with you!
Where are the best places for people to catch up with you and learn more about you online?
www.salvadorsantana.com is the place to be. You can check out all of my social media plugs are there for Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. I also have CDs and songs for sale. You can keep up with my current news and what is happening. Last but not least, and if not most importantly, you can check out the Tour Date section and see where I’ll be performing. Hopefully, I will be coming to a town near you very soon! Stay up to date and definitely stay in touch with me through www.salvadorsantana.com.
Awesome! Thank you so much for your time today, Salvador! We look forward to spreading the word on you and your project. All the best to you in the future!
That sounds good. Thank you!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.