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Play on, Santana

A blast from the past, soul-stirred with the present, and hints of what the future holds were the key elements — just as Carlos Santana would perhaps put it — of the two-and-a-quarter hour concert that left the oldies in thrall and the youngsters jiving on a pleasant Friday evening on the outskirts of Bangalore.

With shifting images of the Vidhana Soudha and Mysore Palace on the giant screen as a homage to the host city of his first-ever concert in India, Santana and his band were on fire, belting out classics and the latest with gusto and finesse only legendary performers of his ilk are capable of whipping up in a live arena.

So, a crowd that just seemed to keep growing — last count 12,000 — got to see, and hear, the guitar god whipping up a heady concoction of his trademark Latin rhythm-infused rock which meant that his contemporary hit Smooth got itself a Cuban jazz ending, while Maria Maria had an extra dose of the sexy swagger of the original.

The surprise package came in the form of Corazon Espinado with Santana’s wife Cindy Blackman sitting behind the lion-painted drum kit and churning out a 10-minute-long spontaneous solo that included a jugalbandi with bassist Benjamin Reitvelt who thumped, plucked and beat up his five-stringer as if there was no tomorrow.

Black Magic Woman and later Jingo had the percussionists on overdrive, while Santana’s guitar talked, teased, wailed, sang and shrieked. On Samba Pa Ti, he just sat on the sound monitors and played, gently probing, questioning and then ferreting out the answers from within.

Awesome. God, what a night!

Amid the gasps of wonderment that our neighbours would often let go, we were left thinking what it was for a 65-year-old man, a musician all his life, to be able to bring so much energy and passion to a craft he seems to rediscover all over again, night after night. When you churn out 30-odd albums (and still counting), sell over 100 million records and bag as many as 10 Grammys in a career that’s won over generations, what else do you strive for?

May be the answer lies in his openness, something that’s reflected in the ambience the Santana band is able to create while playing their signature songs. Woodstock footage beaming on the giant screen behind them took us back to a time when he was in his 20s, a lanky, dark-haired fellow with his face contorted, unveiling himself to a world that did not know who they were. Or what they would ultimately become.

That day, Soul Sacrifice ended with a drum solo by Michael Shrieve. This evening, there were bits of a Doors lead riff and George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps that he infused into the song.

“God, please help me stay in time and play in tune… I promise never to do this again,” Santana reminisced about their Woodstock performance in a BBC documentary that went behind the scenes to reveal that the band, awaiting their turn, had tripped on stuff thinking they would go on stage much later. But scheduling went awry and they had to get on almost immediately. And so the guitar neck felt like a slithering snake and he was, in effect, making all those faces to ensure it stayed straight.

This evening, Santana was saying thank you, slipping in bits and pieces from masters like John Coltrane and the rest. Just like he has in his album Guitar Heaven, that celebrates rock classics like Riders On The Storm (Doors), Sunshine of Your Love (Cream), Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple), Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix) and of course While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Beatles).

“Just as Lennon and Bob Marley spoke of one world, one family,” he told the audience that hung on to his every word, “we are here to celebrate love and unity.”

Are there any takers for such Utopian ideals in these cynical times? Well, during those two hours on Friday the 26th, we were all ready to believe anything.

 

BANGALORE SETLIST

1. Stopover in Bangalore/Yaleo

2. Love is You Love is Me

3. Black Magic Woman

/Gypsy Queen

4. Oye Como Va

5. Maria Maria

6. Foo Foo

7. Corazon Espinado

8. Jingo

9. Samba Pa Ti

10. Batuka/No one to Depend On

11. Taboo/Everybody’s Everything

12. Se A Cabo

13. Europa

14. Evil Ways/A Love Supreme

15. Smooth/Dame Tu Amor

16. Encore: Soul Sacrifice

Calcutta connect: SEEN & HEARD

WHO: Anjum Katyal

She sings the blues like no other.

HOW: Decided and booked herself for Bangalore from Calcutta within half-an-hour after teaming up with friends from Mumbai.

THE SANTANA EXPERIENCE: I loved it. Beyond the thrill of seeing him on stage, it was a very warm, genuine performance. Even his little homilies on peace came from the heart. Having heard his albums and noted the intricacies in his play, one realised that he was perhaps approximating them on stage. May be it had to do with age, but it was interesting to see how he gave himself up completely to music and to his audience. That’s where his magic lies. His interaction with the band made it seem it was one family playing together. He was actually telling us how to play and perform — it wasn’t choreographed, it was natural. Also, Santana is a master at changing the dynamics of a show. From the soft rendition of Europa and Samba Pa Ti, he could instantly change over to the Afro-Cuban groove that kept us moving. In the end, I am glad I made it. Who knows how long these legends will be among us?

WHO: Subir Chatterjee

Guitarist, once upon a time with High, alongside the late Dilip Balakrishnan, Lew Hilt and Nondon Bagchi; now lives in Mumbai.

HOW: Since it was Santana, he had to go.

THE SANTANA EXPERIENCE: What can I say, the man has been around and we have been following his music for so long. Therefore, it was a treat to watch him, especially from backstage where I made it a point to go and see his playing. In those days, much before chords and tabs could be Googled, we used to sit and learn his lead breaks note for note. The upside was that we developed a great ear. Having said that, I don’t care much for the Latin-dance twist he gives most of his songs now. It’s a decision he has taken to stay on in the game and perhaps create a wider listener base. I respect that. And it doesn’t in any way take away from his genius. Come on, the way he played during Woodstock and then later was phenomenal. They were virtual unknowns. Yet, they took the world by storm.

WHO: A crazy fan

Extracted a promise from Santana via t2 to get an album autographed.

THE SANTANA EXPERIENCE: Mind- blowing. Santana wrote on my Shango LP cover: “Love, peace”.

WHO: Rakesh KM

Reporter in Bangalore for The Telegraph.

HOW: Bangalore is home. And if Santana comes home, you got to play host!

THE SANTANA EXPERIENCE: Stunning. The show was pitch perfect and note perfect and with lots of soul. Yet he made it look so easy. Eons of experience at work. Cindy gave a nice diversion. The boys were fabulous. Each of them.