The pioneering rock guitarist holds lofty hopes for “Power of Peace,” a collection of covers recorded with The Isley Brothers, who set the stage for pop music in the 1950s and 1960s with hits such as “Shout” and “Twist and Shout.”
“We felt that we needed to come together like superheroes and come and rescue this time and place in this planet that so intensely needs medicine to heal itself,” the fedora-wearing guitarist said as he presented the album at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Described as “medicine music” by Santana, the album, which came out Friday, merges the smooth soul voice of Ron Isley with Santana’s distinctively rich-toned, poetically phrased guitar riffs.
The best-known songs covered on the album include Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” on which Santana rocks out with a high-voltage solo, and Marvin Gaye’s environmental anthem “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” which takes on some of Santana’s signature Latin rhythms.
Isley, 76, shows the still mellifluous texture and high range of his voice on Leon Thomas’s “Let the Rain Fall on Me” and as he channels Billie Holiday on “God Bless the Child.”
Santana, who recently turned 70, has long spoken of a spirituality found in music — and believes ever more fervently in its power in 2017’s political climate.
“I encourage people to play it in parking lots, shopping malls, CNN — everywhere,” Santana said of the album, “so you can correct a twisted, crooked mind that wants to harm other people.”
Making clear he was alluding to President Donald Trump, Santana said: “Some fool is trying to create more walls.
“We say, you don’t have to. Save your money. It’s already in people’s heads,” he said.
“So we want to take the wall out of people’s heads by creating this kind of frequency.”
– Like a ‘galactic church’ –
“Power of Peace” was recorded in little more than four days in Las Vegas when Santana invited Ron Isley and younger brother Ernie Isley, a guitarist.
Santana said The Isley Brothers had helped inspire him into music after he first heard them.
“It just sounded like a galactic church jumping out of the jukebox telling me, ‘we need you to join us in creating medicine music,'” he said.
He approached Ron Isley after the singer attended one of Santana’s shows, starting a friendship that Isley said involved daily telephone chats.
“It was an unexplainable experience for me after 60 years of doing this music,” Ron Isley said. “It was so much fun.”
Also recording on the album was Santana’s wife Cindy Blackman Santana, a jazz drummer best known for her work with Lenny Kravitz.
She recalled that Ron Isley’s take on “The Look of Love” had been the couple’s song for the first dance at their wedding.
As the drummer, she said The Isley Brothers and Carlos Santana had “one flow” together, without “a break in the energy or even in the sound.”
Santana hopes the collaboration will continue. He said he wanted to tour Africa, describing his music’s influences as “99.9 percent African.”
“We want to go around the world to keep bringing more walls down in the head, in the brain and the mind.”