Photos by Arnie Goodman
“We needed to come together and help heal this planet which is suffering from separation and fear. We need to make it whole. People need hope and courage, and know that your life can have meaning.” With those words, Carlos Santana eloquently expressed the reasons he, his wife, Cindy Blackman Santana, and Ernie and Ronald Isley—the Isley Brothers—had recorded their new joint album, Power of Peace
“We continue to interpret the Chambers Brothers and the Isley Brothers,” Santana said later. “They were both doing what II called hymns. Their songs can be played anytime, anywhere.”
Santana, charmingly held his wife of seven years’ hand, and spoke about the changes music can make in society. “I can tell you what we should play in all the shopping malls, parking lots, hotel lobbies,” he said. “”Imagine,’ ‘What’s Going On,’ ‘Blowin’ In the Wind,’ ‘One Love,’ ‘A Change Is Going to Come.’ When you play this music people will conduct themselves differently.
“These songs bring a frequency of church into the street, but it’s a different kind of church. It ain’t plastic Jesus, it’s the real Jesus—it’s the Universal Galactic Jesus, in harmony with Allah and Krishna. We are promoting Power of Peace, but we’re also promoting galactic spirituality: it ain’t a little religion, it’s the big picture.”
We asked Santana and Blackman to comment on some of today’s music, music that celebrates violence and impersonal sex. Santana answered without hesitation: “That’s not music. Music is about unity and harmony and complimenting. That other frequency, some people call it ‘white noise.’ It’s like when they calibrate the PA in big coliseums, they use white noise to to move around the sound: Kkkrrrissss. If it’s not elevating, complimenting and healing, it’s not music.”
Blackman added, “It’s very low level. A lot of time negativity sells well, and at times negativity is pushed societally, because it puts people in a certain frame of mind and keeps them from progressing.”
The Isley Brothers spoke not only of the mission of Power of Peace, but their appreciation of working with consummate artists like Santana and Blackman. Ronald Isley described Santana’s playing: “He played his guitar like it was his wife. Like he slept with it.”
Ronald rose from his seat as he passionately described Santana’s commitment to music: “I know he loves what he’s doing. He loves the music. He wasn’t worried about how much it was going to make, it was about ‘Where are we going to go so I can play this guitar?’ You got to love it to be that great.” The singer, 76, choked up as he considered the future. “You got a chance to see him now. Now! It’s not going to be forever. See him now, and know the greatness.”
Strong words from a man whose own effect on rock and roll cannot be underestimated. The Isley Brothers’ song “Shout” is among the most covered tunes of all time, and they put the Beatles on the map with the Fab Four’s cover of “Twist and Shout.” We asked Ernie Isley if the Beatles had ever acknowledged the Brothers’ contribution, and he said, “Yes! Years ago, at a festival, Paul McCartney ran over to me and gave me this huge hug—I mean huge—and said, ‘Thank you! If it weren’t for the Isley Brothers, we’d still be playing in Liverpool.’”
We asked Santana who he would carve on his music Mount Rushmore, and he named John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley. For his guitar-player Mount Rushmore, he first chose John McLaughlin, Wes Montgomery, Manitas de Plata and Buddy Guy. But Blackman—who plays Les Paul’s old haunt, the Iridium— was sitting next to her husband, so we asked about Les Paul, and Santana immediately carved another Mount Rushmore for us: Django Reinhardt, Les Paul and Charlie Christian.
Another man might have added Carlos Santana to those lists.