Carlos Santana is African

In 1971, Carlos Santana went to play in Ghana at a massive independence day concert. More famous African American music stars were also on the bill. Santana stole the show.

Carlos Santana. Hamburg, 1973. Image: WikiCommons.

In 1971, an American promoter put on a live show, Soul To Soul, in Ghana’s capital, Accra. This was to coincide with the 14th anniversary of Ghanaian independence. Ghana had been going through a few tough years politically. Its first independence prime minister and then president, Kwame Nkrumah, had been overthrown by his generals in 1966. For now, the country was ruled by a civilian after four years of military dictatorship. Actually, civilian rule would prove brief as the civilian government was overthrown in January 1972. In  any case, the biggest stars of Soul To Soul were Ike and Tina Turner, The Staple Sisters and Wilson Pickett, among others.  The most recognized Ghanaian performer was the drummer Guy Warren. That concert is immortalized in the film “Soul To Soul.” (It is a precursor of the concert that accompanied the Ali-Foreman fight in Kinshasa, Zaire, three years later.) Just google it. Clips abound on Youtube. Like this clip of Wilson Pickett interacting with the crowd. At some point during the performance, some Ghanaians join Pickett on stage. Watch. Or watch footage of Ike and Tina Turner or The Staple Sisters. There’s also footage of the musicians meeting and performing for locals outside the concert venue. But one of the breakout acts of the concert was the less heralded musicians – in Africa at least – was Carlos Santana, the son of Mexican immigrants from San Francisco.

An early influence on Santana was the Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji. Santana was fond of covering Olatunji’s “Jin-go-lo-ba.” Here’s video of Santana performing the tune at a 1992 concert in Santiago, Chile).  No one was shocked. As Pitchfork reported in 2007 “…Afrobeat had a huge influence on American funk in the 70s.”

There’s no footage easily available of Santana’s 1971 Accra performance unless you watch the film (and Santana is not on the soundtrack), but one of the songs Santana played in Ghana was “Black Magic Woman.” Here’s a live version from 1970, one year before Soul To Soul.

Santana sings, “You got your spell on me.” He may as well be singing about Ghana.

Not surprisingly, Santana influenced local Ghanaian bands. One of these was the Bokoor Band, led by a British guitarist John Collins (later a music professor in Ghana). In 2007, Collins released a record “Bokoor Beat” of that sound and credited Santana’s influence.  Some credit Santana with also influencing Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat.

In 1999, Santana recorded the album “Supernatural.” One of the outstanding tracks was “Africa Bamba.” A light song about dancing, ends with Santana exhorting his listeners to make links between a set of disparate places, including his birthplace Mexico, and Africa, for a new kind of global consciousness. It appears it started in Africa:

Africa I am calling you
Hey Puerto Rico where are you
Raise your hands Colombia
Hey where are you Peruvians
Venezuela I love you
China, China, I love you too
Japan, Japan, Japan that rich Japan
Japan dances with Santana
Don’t forget Mexico, Mexico, my Mexico
My Mexico.

Further Reading