Enough already with the emphasis on vocals on reality TV shows like “American Idol” and “Duets” — Carlos Santana is more than ready to let his guitar do the emoting.
On his latest album, “Shape Shifter” (Starfaith Records), the legendary guitarist and band leader has put the focus squarely on the instrumental side, with just one song featuring vocals by Santana’s lead singers, Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay.
“Sometimes it’s OK to turn off the TV and listen to a forgotten melody that everyone likes, and the forgotten melody is instrumental; it’s not necessarily with words, English, Swahili, Spanish or anything,” says Santana, who performs 8 p.m. Friday, July 20, at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City. “The best universal music is instrumental because of the melody — nothing is more haunting than a melody.”
The new group of songs, which Santana has written, collected and/or performed over the last decade or so, honors Native American Indians.
“We have so much to learn and teach our children about being connected with this beautiful planet we call Mother Earth,” Santana says. “Our children are lost in Nintendo games about killing people, and lost in computers and satellites, and they’re further and further and further away from just being natural and normal with Mother Nature. I wish we had more American Indian teachers at universities, colleges, high schools, junior high schools and preschools who would teach our children how to honor and respect, life, people and the planet.”
Typical of Santana’s output, the project reflects his varied influences, including Senegalese group Touré Kunda and Hungarian jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo, and features the contributions of multiple collaborators, such as Eric Bazilian of Hooters fame and Santana’s son, Salvador.
The younger Santana plays piano on the uptempo “Canela” and “Ah, Sweet Dancer,” a track the two first heard in a taxi in Germany and added to their live repertoire.
The new material will inform Santana’s set this weekend, but expect to hear a range of material from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member’s long and varied career.
Santana’s music spans his mid-’60s San Francisco Bay Area roots as a blues artist and seminal appearance at Woodstock, through his signature hits of the early ’70s (“Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va” and “Everybody’s Everything”), and his 1999 commercial comeback with the blockbuster, multiple Grammy-winning album, “Supernatural.”
“I’m pretty clear about where we are and what we need to play,” Santana says. “We need to honor yesterday, today and tomorrow. I make a setlist and leave space in the set where nobody including myself knows where we’re going to go. It makes it fresh and interesting and new.”
As for Santana’s trademark guitar solos, they will be front and center, but aren’t something he necessarily plans. Rather, he lets the moment — and the melody — dictate the shape they take.
“They all have a launching pad — a point of departure,” he says. “You visit the theme and then you go somewhere else, then you go back with the theme. It’s like a trampoline, to utilize the theme or the melody. Then you take off and you tell a story.”
Where some artists find themselves repeating themselves musically or concentrating solely on the hits, Santana — at 65 years old — is still as curious about the world as he always has been.
“Every molecule in my body is always looking for a new color or feeling or sensation, so there’s nothing ho-hum or ‘been there, done that’ about my existence,” he says. “I don’t hang around people like that. To me, everything is the first time ever, everything from touching God’s feet to sex — everything.
“It’s important that I don’t ever lose the intensity, the passion for life. People who don’t know how to ignite themselves become really boring and predictable — I wish they would go somewhere on an island and be ho-hum by themselves. I need to be around people who are — here’s the word, vibrant — and I am.”
What makes Santana song so ‘Smooth?’
More than a decade after Santana’s “Smooth” topped the charts, the song is still a radio staple.
The track from Santana’s “Supernatural” album claimed Grammys for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals as part of a nine-Grammy haul that included the prize for top album.
Co-written by Itaal Shur and Rob Thomas of matchbox twenty, the latter who provided the lead vocals, the song’s longevity is due to its success in connecting with one key demographic — female listeners, according to legendary guitarist and band leader Carlos Santana
“It makes women happy,” Santana says. “As soon as they hear it, Oh my God, they drop the luggage and baggage and psychological insecurity and start shaking like flowers for the sun. There’s something really beautiful with that song. It’s a supreme validation — women need supreme validation, and that song is it.”