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Cindy Blackman Santana Talks Her New CD and Life With Carlos

Written by Randy Patterson

Posted February 2019

Cindy Blackman Credit Rob Shanahan croppedPhoto by Rob ShanahanThey say that behind every great man is a great woman. This is literally the case with Carlos Santana in the person of his wife of eight years, Cindy Blackman-Santana. Cindy is one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s touring and studio drummers.

Astute music fans will know Cindy as a phenomenal musician who stands quite well on her own. Having cut her musical teeth on hard-core jazz, she has played with a long list of jazz artists including Sam Rivers, Angela Bofill, Sonny Simmons. 

She’s also quite the rock drummer, first hitting it big as Lenny Kravitz’s drummer and performing on his huge 1993 hit, “Are You Gonna Go My Way”. She’s pretty much played with him ever since.

Her work as a rock drummer invaded her personal life when, in December 2010, she married Carlos Santana. The marriage is rocking along beautifully both personally and musically. 

Hearing that she was going to have an album coming out later this year as well as a new CD with Carlos, I thought it would a great time to chat with her (something I’ve sought to do for three years). 

While preparing for our chat, I learned that she is friends Boomerocity photographic contributor (and personal photographer for Ringo Starr and the go-to shutter bug for DW Drums and Gretsch Drums), Rob Shanahan. 

He had this to say about Cindy: “Cindy is a total class act and incredible drummer. I enjoyed photographing her for the Gretsch Drums campaign, and incredibly grateful to have created such an iconic image of her.” Of which she said, “He’s awesome!”

At the beginning of my chat with Cindy, I congratulated her on her recent wedding anniversary and asked her if it has been anything at all like she envisioned it eight years ago.

“Um, no, it’s not. Ha! Ha! No, it’s not in some ways and in other ways it’s gloriously like I envisioned it. I really like monogamy because I love growing with a person. I’ve always been that way my whole life. I like that. I like seeing the growthEverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited of a person; doing things together; growing with somebody. We certainly done a lot of that. It’s a beautiful thing because we still have our freshness. We still have playfulness and we still have fun. I see some people who are together for a lot less time and sometimes they don’t stay together. Sometimes, things wear out. We still have all of those things so I’m very happy with that.”

I shifted the conversation to the new CDs coming out and asked her to tell me about them.

“Absolutely! I’ll start, first, with Carlos’ and then end up with mine. 

“He’s got a great CD coming out called “Africa Speaks” and it’s with the {mprestriction ids="*"}Santana band plus this incredible singer who Carlos came across by the name of Buika (pronounced “BWEE-kah”) and she’s SO amazing! Her writing is incredible. I love the content of her writing. And, then, her voice is just really spectacular! It’s very sultry and she has beautiful tone and she’s very distinctive. She’s got a very distinctive voice. Once you hear her voice, you know that it’s her. 

“This music, as the title would suggest – Africa Speaks – is based off of a lot of music that Carlos heard which is from Africa – with some different kinds of African rhythms but, as well, with music that comes from Africa which was initially influenced by American music. American music – or, classical music – which is jazz – comes, in part, from African music. We took the rhythms of Africa and we took the harmonies of Europe and developed on both of those things and expounded on both of those things and created jazz music – which is what I call American Classical music or American CLASSIC music. Classical sometimes deems another connotation which is that it’s a staid music. A music that doesn’t grow. But jazz – in its surest form – is certainly quite the opposite of that. But classic American music – to me being jazz – builds off of those things.

“Well, in Africa, we’re influenced by them rhythmically and melodically, too, in a lot of ways, of course. Blues is certainly influenced by that because you get the call and response, which definitely comes from Africa, as well. They were then influenced by us in terms of hearing jazz, hearing funk, hearing people like James Brown. They did their own thing with it. 

“So, Carlos heard all those things and took them and did something else with them. It’s a nice back and forth influence, if you will, for what we come up with for this record. It’s really incredible. 

“That records coming out. Prior to that, my record will be released. I’m really, really proud of the music that we’re doing. I recorded a lot of music with some musicians. There’s SO MUCH music, at this point, I have, basically, two sides of the record. One is going to be, for the most part, instrumental. The second side is featuring my vocal debut. Those songs are more on a commercial/pop side where the instrumental part is very electric and kind of jazz/rock/funk vibe. Both sides feature a guitar-heavy roster. 

“John McLaughlin is on one track on each side – so he’s on one instrumental and one vocal track. Carlos is on both sides. Vernon Reid is on the instrumental side as is Kurt Hammet. So, it’s really got those heavy hitters on guitar. 

“Then, there’s some songs that’s got some really cool messages. There’s one called, ‘Social Justice,’ which features Andy Vargas, the singer for the Santana band but he’s also an amazing rapper. I really love the messages that he comes up with and his flow. He’s on a couple of tracks. It’s going to be really cool!

“On the second side, with the main vocal things, they were produced by Narada Michael Walden, who is, in his own right, a great drummer, but he’s also a very great producer, as well. Narada is very sweet! A very kind individual. Wonderful to work with. 

“I sang one song on Carlos’ record called, ‘Power of Peace,’ which is a Santana/Isley record. I didn’t intend to sing that song. It’s a song that I wrote called, ‘I Remember’. I brought it into the session where we were recording. It was the last day and I said, ‘There’s a song that I’d love Ronald Isley to hear because it’s great and I think his voice would be wonderful if he sang this song.’  I had demoed that song years ago. So, I brought in the demo that I did with myself singing it. He (Ronald Isley) heard the song and he said, ‘You know, this is a beautiful song, but I don’t see myself singing it. This sounds like a very feminine song. I think a woman should sing it.’

“He was naming some singers who he thought we should bring in and sing it. Carlos was, like, ‘No, no, no, no! If you’re not Cindy Blackman Credit Rob ShanahanReducedPhoto by Rob Shanahangoing to sing it, Cindy’s going to sing it!’ I’m, like, ‘Cindy’s going to sing it’? What are you talking about?’ Ha! Ha!

“Everybody had the same thought – that I should sing it. Even some years ago when I first demoed it, I sang it and then I had Corey Glover from Living Color – he sang it. He said, ‘Cindy, I’m happy to sing this song for you but YOU need to be singing this song, not me!’ Everything was pointing to me doing it. 

“I sang the song. Ronald did some beautiful ad libs on that song. Narada heard that song and said, ‘You know, you should do a record like that where you’re singing’, and Carlos had been saying, ‘You should do a record. I hear you sing around the house and I love your voice. You should sing.’ My mom’s been telling me I should sing. So, because of that urging, I spoke to Narada and I said, ‘Yeah, but I’m not a singer.’ He said, ‘Girl, don’t worry. I can produce you.’ I’m, like, ‘C’mon! I don’t think so,’ and he said, ‘Yep! I can produce you.’

“We started writing together and we came up with seven songs. All of those seven songs are going to be on the record. They’re really cool! Very cool songs! I really love those songs! 

“My record will be a double record with one instrumental side and, then, the vocal side will be the second half of the record. Like I said, I’m really proud of that record. I’m really happy. It’s very, very different record from anything that I’ve ever done. We’re hoping that it will be out in the Spring. That’s what we’re looking for – a Spring release. I wanted it to come out sooner. I wanted it to come out right now but there is, obviously, some logistics that you have to go through to release a record. We’re working through those now and looking for it to be released in the Spring. I’m hoping we get to talk again when it comes out because I really want to share this music and share the messages that are on this record with some people!”

When I asked if they (and she) were going to be touring in support of the discs, she replied:

“Yes! Yes! We’re going to be starting in Las Vegas, starting at the House of Blues, again. Then, we tour the U.S. in the Spring and, then, we have a big, hefty European tour for the summer, which will be great! I love touring Europe – especially in the summer because the weather is so amazing and there’s so many incredible places that you can see and enjoy in the nice weather. That will be fantastic. We have a really full year. We had a nice break here, but we’ve got a full year coming up. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be awesome!”

As I stated earlier, jazz is Cindy’s true musical love. She enjoys the benefit of being able to record and tour playing jazz, not all musicians of the genre do that. I asked her why many jazz artists seem to peel off to play other genres, almost pushing jazz farther into the background.

CarlosCindybyErikKabikPhoto by Erik Kabik“First, it depends on the person’s temperament, attitude, and tastes because, to me, jazz is my favorite and to me it’s the greatest music on the planet. But I also like other music. I like funk music. I like rock. I like African influenced music, rhythmically. I like those things. I love Brazilian music. For me to play other things is also fulfilling. Not fulfilling in the same way as playing jazz. No. But it’s still fulfilling. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a hardship to play other things. My best example of a person who plays other styles and plays them in a very innovative and great way would be Herbie Hancock. He’s one of my heroes for that kind of thing because he does that so well and he’s innovative in every genre that he takes up. 

“It’s unfortunate that – even though jazz is created, born and bred and developed in this country and it’s an American art form – and, to me, the greatest American art form – it does not get the respect or love that it deserves – especially from this country. If it was held in higher regard, then it would. For the jazz musicians who don’t want to branch out and play other things, they wouldn’t have to. If you listen to what gets pushed on the radio, it’s not jazz. It’s not acoustic music. You might get what some call “smooth jazz’. To me, that’s not jazz. I don’t like it, honestly. I’m being very honest and no offense to anybody who plays it and likes it. Everybody’s got their thing. But, for me, it’s not my taste. It’s a watered-down version of the music that I love. If I’m listening to Miles Davis, I don’t want to hear a watered-down version of Miles. If I’m hearing somebody who going for that, then that’s fine. But to hear a watered-down version of it, to make it radio playable, that’s really a turn off for me. 

“And, just because there’s a solo in music doesn’t mean that it’s jazz. People will say, ‘Somebody’s soloing.’ Well, that’s good but that doesn’t make it jazz. It makes it good. It makes them solo and it makes it better because somebody’s actually doing something different in a song. 

“But, back to the main point: I think – and I believe with my whole heart and soul – that if jazz was pushed let’s say on Clear Channel the way that rock is pushed or the way that funk is pushed, people would love it. I’ve played in concerts and people who were stone-cold Lenny Kravitz fans have come to my concerts because they saw me somewhere and they had seen me with Lenny and saw may name. They didn’t really know what I was doing but came. They’re, like, ‘Wow! This is my first jazz concert ever! I loved it!’ Well, you know what? Thank you for that! I appreciate that. I’m so happy. But I think that more people would understand and feel that they love it if the music were pushed more.

“You know, if you look at the fifties when jazz was pushed more, Miles Davis was as big of a star as Marlon Brando. It’s CindyBlackmanSantana01 PhotobyJimmyBruch2bPhoto by Jimmy Bruchmusic that is great and people would love it if given the chance. But when it’s not pushed – and I think there are reasons that it’s not pushed. It’s not pushed because it’s not music that leads to conditioning. It’s not music that leads to everybody thinking with conveyor-belt mentality; with the same in-the-box mentality. It leads you to think out of the box. It leads you to be more of an individual. It leads you to be a creative person. And when you do all those things, you’re less likely to be a person who’s going to be controlled and put into a box in terms of thinking, doing, acting, even eating. You’re not just going to be following the crowd just because it’s the religious act for you. An act done out of habit. You’re going to be thinking for your own self. You’re going to be creating weather you’re going to be making something or whether it’s just creative thought. You’re going to be doing that. 

“That’s what jazz does and why it’s probably my most favorite music ever because it leads and lends itself to creativity. This planet – the universe – is, based on creativity. If you look at the way – and I don’t want to offend anybody for any kind of spirituality or any belief that someone does or doesn’t have and so I don’t hold any kind of judgement either way so I’m hoping nobody holds me in judgement for what I’m about to say – but I believe that the Creator – God, Allah, the Universe, whatever you want to call that being that I feel is responsible for us being here – is a very creative entity. If you look at the way that this planet was put together – the way that the cosmos was put together – that’s some high-level creativity – to be able to make that! 

“So, we, as sparks of that, have the creative gene is us. We have the creative desire in us because we come from an entity that is completely creative – intelligent and creative and loving. That’s what we come from. So, we, at our core, I believe we want to be that. I believe that it serves the purpose of anybody who wants to control or program you to weed that element out of your psyche. Jazz does not weed that element out. It brings that element out. It magnifies that element. Where, if you’re put into a box all the time, then that element is – the element of non-creativity and programming – is enforced and re-enforced. 

“So, that’s what I think is up with creative music; with jazz music. Creative music doesn’t have to be jazz. I take that from Wayne Shorter. He doesn’t even call it jazz. He calls it ‘creative music’. You can be creative if you’re playing in the rock genre. You can be creative if you’re playing in the funk genre. Those are rhythms that you work off of. You can work off of any rhythm and be creative. So, I don’t say that because it’s not ‘jazz’ that it’s not creative. It can be creative if it’s another rhythm. It’s how you approach the chord. It’s how you approach the form. It’s how you approach the whole presentation of the music. It’s how you approach letting the music live; letting the music breathe. Because, if you don’t let it breathe and you don’t let it live, then it’s in that box format.”

As for what she would like to do, musically, that she hasn’t yet done, Cindy said (after some careful thought):

CindyBlackmanSantanaPhotobyJimmyBruch1bPhoto by Jimmy Bruch“More mixing of the genres. This record that I’m coming out with – which, by the way, is called “Give the Drummer Some” – is certainly mixing a bunch of things that I love into one record. More of the ‘chef hat’ is what I want to put on. More recipe making in terms of coming out with more mixes and more colors of the music; to come up with more different presentations for the music.”

Cindy then shared what is on her radar for the next couple of years.

“My agenda for this year is really to keep in line with the projects that we have coming out. I’m really looking forward to this ‘Africa Speaks’ because I love the music. At the same time, I’m very supportive of my new record because I love what we’ve done. So, I intend to keep pushing both of those and when my record comes out, to support that, as well. But, at the same time, my forward-thinking cap is still on because I have music that I’m ready to put out after this record and certainly ideas for stuff I want to do for my next project and my next record. So those are still forming. Some of them are formed because I do have music already that I want to record; some music that I’ve written that I’ve not had a chance to record, yet, that I’ve played live with my band. Those things I want to record so those are on the back-burner for after this record. 

“Maybe playing with some different people; adding some different people to the mix of what I’m doing, as well. Going to some different places in terms of the geography of the tour because I want to certainly reach more people - other people. Reaching out and helping through the music that we play, helping people; helping children; doing some things to bring a magnifying glass or a focus to some happening around the world that I think deserve attention and deserve help from people. 

“I’m really into health. The ‘health is wealth’ phrase and adage I think is important because I think it’s true. I think that’s why it’s such a popular phrase. Health is wealth. So, there are some things that I want to do with that. I’ve seen just through my personal – and I was talking about this to a friend of mine just this morning – I’ve seen just in my personal scope a lot of headway from people who have cancer – by taking what’s called Black Seed Oil – and I’m not a doctor; I’m not purporting to give medical advice or anything and I’ll make a disclaimer with that. These are not testimonials that I’ve read. These are people that I’ve actually seen take that particular substance and have some really dramatic results. There are some things that I want to help – in the proper way and in ways that don’t make me sound like I’m purporting to be some sort of medical doctor, which I’m not. There’s just some things I want to bring attention to in terms of health. I think that the way we eat needs to be addressed. I think the way people are treated; the way that children are treated; the way that the elderly are treated needs to be addressed. 

“My dad passed this year. He had dementia. I think that’s an area that needs to be addressed, as well. I watched his care. I CindyBlackmanSantana 002btook part in his care. I gave him care. I cared for him, as my family did. Apart from caring for him, we were certainly very involved in the facility that he ended up staying in. We were involved in monitoring the care that he was given there. We learned a lot from that. So, there are things in that area that I want to help bring attention to because I think that’s very important. 

“In terms of our awareness of the universe and our awareness of our position here – not as spectators because to live on this planet and think that we are spectators, to me, is not fully being engrossed in the energy of what’s here. I think that this planet is a living, breathing organism and I think that it is the same living, breathing organism that we are, basically. The way that we treat this planet, the way that we treat ourselves, is all intertwined. If we don’t take care of the planet, we’re not taking care of ourselves. 

“I think that they are all things that need to be addressed and I hope to bring attention to all of that. Bring more conscious awareness to those things so that we are taking care of ourselves. We are taking care of the planet. Then the planet will better take care of us! We have to understand that this planet is not called ‘Mother Earth’ just because that sounds like a cool title. This is called ‘Mother Earth’ because it is our mother. We basically suckle off of this earth as we would as newborns off of our mothers when we’re born. When we suckle off of this earth, we have to realize that’s a gift from the earth and, so, we need to take care of her, and we need to love her better.”

How does Cindy want to be remembered and what does she hope her legacy is?

“Absolutely and I’m sure that it will change as my awareness changes – my answers and my perspective on life changes. But you know? I’ll tell you: when I was thirteen, I started studying the Baha´’i faith and it was through some friends of mine that I had met and became their babysitter. The lady said to me, ‘You know, one of the nicest things that anybody ever said to me is that I’m a good person.’ That stuck in my head from then. One of the things that I’m hoping that people would remember me as or by being is that I’m a good person and that I only mean for the highest good of everyone and not just myself. I hope to be remembered as that. Not just in word but also in deed; the things that I do and in the way that I treat people. Certainly, in the way that I try to live my life. I’m not perfect. For the things that are not up to par and up to the level that I want them to be at, I’m certainly consciously aware of raising those things to the level that I want them to be at. I feel that I’ve done – and am doing – a pretty good job at that. Certainly, we can always improve, so there’s that. So, I hope to be remembered for that. 

Cindy 1 Cindy with Santana Band“My goal as a musician is to become a virtuoso, which I’m not at this point. I’m still working on that, but I would hope that I would be remembered as that. If I can be a positive influence on somebody on and off the bandstand; if I can touch somebody’s heart and make them feel love which would make be a better person – a more caring person – then I’m going to feel accomplished if I can do that. Those are some of the things that I hope to do and certainly hope to be remembered for. 

“I have a song on my new record called, ‘Change Is in Your Hands’. I believe that it’s a true title. I believe that we can all make change happen and we’re all responsible for it happening or not happening. I want to be an instrument for change for the good; change for the better; change for the higher level of awareness; change for the higher level of everyone’s life circumstances. And I don’t mean only mine. I think the universe intends for all people to live and breathe and be in the highest circumstance that we can be in. Not just some. But I believe that there’s enough to go around for everybody and I believe that the intention is for everyone to be that way. I don’t like division. Not that I’m ungrateful for anything that I have, do, or will get, and not that don’t strive, because I do. I’m also born in this capitalistic society so that’s part of my mentality but not in a bad way. It’s not the ‘crabs in a barrel’ and I know that that exists, especially in our society. But I don’t take on the energy of the crab in the barrel. I just take the energy of upgrading and uplifting. I’m not going to be the crab that’s going to crawl over someone to get. I’m going to be the crab that’s going to extend my hand and pull other people up.”

Keep up with Cindy at her website, CindyBlackmanSantana.com, and be sure to pre-order her new CD, Give the Drummer Some, as well as her husband, Carlos’ new CD, Africa Speaks. They’re worth the price!{/mprestriction}