Five decades after storming onto the big stage with a breakout performance at Woodstock, Latin rockers Santana are still wooing fans with their newer sound and style to establish their relevance in a world in short supply of creative music.
Pushed along by the band’s namesake Carlos Santana and his trademark, high-pitched guitar playing and larger-than-life stage presence, the ten-strong outfit brought the 2016 Emirates Dubai Jazz Festival to an exhilarating climax at a heaving Dubai Media City Amphitheatre on Friday night.
A self-confessed ‘peace and love’ hippie, Santana’s Mexican heritage has helped fuel a plethora of hit songs such as Oye Como Va, Jin-go-lo-ba, Evil Ways, Black Magic Woman and the more recent Maria Maria. A plentiful catalogue that ensured the band are a commercial force, both in the studio and on stage, like the 15,000-strong crowd at the Jazz Festival will attest to.
“You look so nice... there’s so much of beautiful energy over here,” Santana enquired tenderly of his audience. “How’s your heart today, you’re okay?”
“We want the same thing that John Lennon, the same thing that Bob Marley wanted. We want one love and we want to imagine peace on earth, everywhere,” he added drawing attention to his lifetime of collected spiritual wisdom.
Sporting a hand-painted ‘Lion from Zion’ shirt and a Fedora from his signature self-designed collection, the musician took the moment to tease the ladies saying: “We want to make the women happy. ‘Cause when women are happy, everything is happening!”
Friday’s gig was part of Santana’s worldwide Luminosity Tour and featured an all-star line-up of musicians including his wife Cindy Blackman on drums — best known for recording and touring with Lenny Kravitz — acclaimed percussionist Michael Carabello, keyboardist Greeg Rolie, bassist Benny Rietveld and Andy Vargas on lead vocals.
Corazon Espinado, Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile), A Live Supreme, Samba Pa Ti were all dealt with professional abandon and energy. Latin music is irresistible and exciting and any self-respecting music aficionado will agree that Santana live were an absolute joy.
Vargas deployed a steady, clear slightly nasal tenor on key tracks like Maria Maria, while the thumping bass lines of Rietveld offered beefy support to Blackman’s ferocious beating of her Pearl drum kit.
However, at the heart of the music that filled the scenic lawn setting was the ever-charismatic Santana who encouraged us to enjoy every note that he squeezed out of his signature PRS guitar. Santana’s playing is refined, delicate and mesmerising as was evident on the epic Samba Pa Ti and Europa. If this is the standard of guitar playing that has survived all the upheavals music has had to endure over the year then he deserves to win a Noble prize for spreading the message of ‘one love’ through song.
Santana was a joy to listen to from beginning to end, which came in the form of the ever-beautiful Grammy-winning Smooth.
Every year the Dubai Jazz Festival sells out to its fullest capacity and it was easy to see why with high production values, stunning sets and dramatic lighting making it a standout on the Dubai entertainment calendar.