Music is a burst of choices, not only what note to play when and with what instrument, but whether to play a note at all. Salvador Santana, the 29-year-old keyboardist, vocalist, composer and songwriter with strong Bay Area roots, knows what it means to navigate the infinite options of music.
Salvador began playing the drums at age three–sitting on his father’s lap, controlling the snare and tom, as his father worked the hi-hat and kick drum – but his true love was discovered when he began taking piano lessons when he was six. Later, he studied at the heralded Ruth Asawa School of the Arts before attending CalArts in Valencia, CA. His education, passion and lineage have turned Santana into a monster on the keys. Music truly thrives in his veins. His maternal grandfather was blues pioneer Saunders King and his paternal grandfather was the internationally celebrated violinist and mariachi bandleader Jose Santana. His father is Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Carlos Santana with whom Salvador co-wrote the Grammy-winning “El Farol”, from the 1999 smash album Supernatural.
With his current solo project, Salvador Santana has truly become a brand of his own. He has spent a good part of the past two years performing live at venues and outdoor festivals throughout the U.S. garnering new fans and inspiring old ones. His 2008 project with the Salvador Santana Band–simply called SSB–pursued the scope of his ability. Collaboration has always been the centerpiece of his creations and this passion manifested his solo debut Keyboard City (released February 2, 2011 via Various Music/Quannum Projects) around the inspirations of a few legends: Bay Area MC/producer Del the Funky Homosapien (who helped hone in Santana’s writing skills,) Beastie Boy studio wizard Money Mark and GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. This spontaneous meeting of the minds demonstrated Salvador’s magnetic ability to connect every kind of artist on any dynamic level.
On June 11, 2013 Santana released his new 5 song EP Rise Up, containing the previously released singles “Mi Tesoro,” “Into The Light” and “Rise Up” as well as two new songs “It’ On” and “Gimme Your Best.” 2013 has also found Salvador Santana on the road again touring through the Northwest. In addition to his musical desires, Santana has worldly efforts on his mind. After a trip to South Africa with Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA), where he met Nelson Mandela, something triggered inside of Santana to make sure his music wasn’t only about personal glory. Salvador has posted various non-profit organizations on his website that will receive a percentage of his music sales’ profits.
B.C./N.H.A. – Obviously coming from a major musical family, tell me about your own early musical history and development where you grew up in the San Francisco Bay area.
S.S. – Growing up in the Bay Area at an early age I was exposed to so many different styles of music. For those that have lived there or visited they can agree that the Bay Area is kind of a melting pot…you get a little bit of everything. From art, to history, to culinary, to culture…it’s all there as not only accessible but also tangible to experience. I think that played a huge part for me because you hear a lot of different styles and genres of music in my sound.
B.C./N.H.A. – Now a lot of people would make immediate associations with your father being an obvious heavy musical influence on you. I’d like to take the time to hear about your grandfathers and their influence on you as a musician.
S.S. – Well my maternal grandfather Saunders King was a renowned blues guitarist, vocalist, and bandleader from Louisiana. He not only inspired famous names like BB King, but also was a huge inspiration to my father. And my paternal grandfather José
Santana was a renowned violinist, vocalist, and bandleader in the mariachi world. Just like I had the opportunity to perform in my dad’s band, my father got to perform both guitar and violin in my grandfather’s band. Both were major musical influences for my father, therefore huge influences for me as well. I’m honored to share this incredible lineage and to continue the legacy.
B.C./N.H.A. – You’ve been exposed to so much music, new and old, for so many years, so, besides your father and grandfathers, who are some of your biggest musical influences and heroes and why?
S.S. – One of my greatest influences as a pianist, keyboardist and overall musician is Herbie Hancock. From his extensive body of work covering most genres in music combined with all the big name artists and musicians he’s worked with throughout his career, to me he truly is the entrepreneur in music. I remember when I was first learning how to play the piano I was learning a couple of tunes by Herbie. One was “Maiden Voyage” and the other was “Dolphin Dance”. Another great influence for me was hearing Herbie incorporate the vocoder on is record Sunlight. That was huge and opened up a whole new world for me. It inspired me so much that I wanted to feature the vocoder in my own music. I had that opportunity to do so on a couple of songs in my album titled Keyboard City. And I also enjoy playing it when I perform live on stage with my band. I’ve had the pleasure to see him perform many, many times and he never ceases to amaze me.
B.C./N.H.A. – So with all these influences, what was the defining moment (or moments) in your own history of when you chose the path to become the artist you are today?
S.S. – I’m honestly not sure if there was a specific moment that made me decide to be the musician that I am today. I think somewhere between my years in college and finishing school to form my band I thought, “Hey being a musician isn’t just what I’m supposed to do…. it’s what I want to do”.
B.C./N.H.A. – In knowing and hearing your music, I know you draw from multiple musical genres. How would you describe your signature sound?
S.S. – Well sense I present myself as a piano player and a lyricist, there’s no doubt that you can hear a heavy influence of Jazz and Hip-Hop in my music. But I’ve recently been on a path to try to invent a new genre of music that’s just as original as the sound I strive to create everyday. I call it “life”. Basically it’s combining the best of the best from every genre of music ever created from all over the world.
B.C./N.H.A. – With all your performance history, what have been some of your favorite career highlights so far?
S.S. – Wow! There are so many to choose from. I’d have to say a highlight for me was early on in my career I had the honor to play the piano and share the stage not only with the incredible Dr. Dennis Chambers on drums and Benny Rietveld on bass but also with the amazing Ravi Coltrane on saxophone at the “Hymns For Peace” concert in Montreux Switzerland and back in 2004. Wayne Shorter, John Mclaughlin, Herbie Hancock and the late Claude Nobs were some of the many names that were in attendance.
B.C./N.H.A. – You recently released a new EP of material called Rise Up. Tell us about the making of this album.
S.S. – It was really a fun and amazing process from beginning to end. I got the chance to collaborate with a few very talented artists and producers such as Klaus D, Barrett Yeretsian, and Asdru Sierra from Ozomatli. This record is basically a small collection of songs that I have been working on for the last 2 years. Now that it’s complete I’m very happy and couldn’t wait to share it with the rest of the world.
B.C./N.H.A. – I know there’s a very positive message within the EP title track (and video) “Rise Up”, and that positive messages like this exist within your material. What is, or has been, your lyrical inspiration for songs like this?
S.S. – In the making of this EP I wanted to encapsulate some of the more recent and inspiring moments that I was able to experience first hand. When I was composing lyrics for the single “Rise Up”, I thought about my trip to South Africa back in 2006. During that time, my family and I had the privilege to meet in person Mr. Nelson Mandela. That was truly a moment I will never forget. When I came back home, I wanted to learn more about him and his life. I came across a collection of quotes by Mandela. There are so many amazing quotes but one quote totally stood out to me, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” As soon as I read that I immediately became inspired.
B.C./N.H.A. – What’s currently on the horizon for you both on the road and in the studio for 2013/14?
S.S. – I’m excited to finish off 2013 on high note and take that momentum straight into 2014. I’ll continue to compose new material in the studio on my own and plan to continue to collaborate with different artists as well. I’m also looking forward to getting back out onto the road to perform some live shows with my band in the Southern California area. One show in particular that I’m very honored and excited to be apart of is a benefit concert at Los Globos in Los Angeles that’s happening on Oct. 12th titled “Burn It Down”. It’s a concert dedicated to those who have been or know someone who’s been affected by cancer. It’s a cause that’s very dear to me because I’ve lost dear friends and family to this disease, so I feel honored to have the opportunity that evening to help fight cancer with music. You can check out http://salvadorsantana.com/tour-dates/ for more info about where I’ll be performing around the LA area and abroad. And for more info about the benefit show on Oct. 12th check out https://www.facebook.com/BurnItDown
B.C./N.H.A. – Lastly, with all your professional experiences and history, what would be some go-to advice of yours to any up-and-coming musicians and artists getting started in the music industry?
S.S. – My advice to those that are just getting started in the industry would be short and to the point. This is a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that was passed along to me when I was first starting out in the industry:
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
What I gained from this was basically as long as you believe in yourself and never give up, you can accomplish anything that you want.
To see more about Salvador Santana check out these videos:
“Rise Up” Official Video
“Into The Light” Official Video
“California Love” In-Studio Performance
“Light At The Edge Of The World” Hymns For Peace Concert Performance