Best Of '99: Santana, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef, Everlast Tap Into Supernatural

Veteran Latin American guitarist reaches across pop genres with latest album.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Tuesday, June 1.]

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. — To Carlos Santana, his new album,

Supernatural, is — as the title suggests — more a spiritually

inspired work of art than a random collection of songs and musical styles.

And he doesn't take full credit for it. Rather, he said, this is not so

much a Santana album as a merging of creative energy among some of the

most acclaimed artists in the business.

"Man, that's what really turns me on about this album," Santana said,

wearing his trademark skullcap and burning sandalwood incense in his

Marin County studio. "Lauryn Hill and Everlast and Dave Matthews, all of

us want the same thing. We want to help [sculpt] a new dimension for this

planet."

The screaming heard on Supernatural — the first studio album

in seven years from Santana's veteran Latin American rock band — is

the enthusiastic response bandleader Santana and his guest musicians

expressed over the sound of their instruments playing off each other.

Among the big-name artists on the record are hip-hop songstress Hill,

her Fugees bandmate Wyclef Jean, blues-rock guitar-slinger Eric Clapton,

rock bandleader Matthews and folk-rapper Everlast.

"I had fun just coming into a room, and here comes Eric Clapton, and we

just plug in and we start playing and like two antennas we just receive

and transmit," Santana said. "I scream when he plays a lick that just

totally thrills me. And he screams, and you hear it on the CD, when I

play a lick. ... He literally goes, 'Whoo! Man!' "

"I have no doubt that most of the songs in there — most of the notes,

the chords, changes and the lyrics — are going to rearrange molecular

structure when people listen to it," Santana, 51, said. "To come into a

room, there's David Matthews, Lauryn Hill, Eric Clapton, Everlast, and

we just look at each other and we hear the music. We don't have to get

one of those sticks and go looking for water; we know exactly where it

is."

The bilingual album, due June 15, also features appearances by Grammy-winning

Mexican rock band Mana, singer/songwriter Eagle-Eye Cherry and Matchbox

20 frontman Rob Thomas.

The Mexican-born Santana, whose pioneering salsa-rock band gave an incendiary

performance at the original Woodstock festival in 1969, had rock hits

with "Black Magic Woman," "Oye Como Va" and "Evil Ways," all from Santana

(1969) and Abraxas (1970). Many of his and his band's more than

20 albums since have leaned more toward new-age jazz than rock, and they

have received little radio airplay. The band's most recent studio album

was Milagro (1992); more recently, Carlos Santana recorded

Brothers (1994) with brother Jorge Santana and cousin Carlos

Hernandez.

"In 1995," Santana said, "my wife and I made a conscious decision to go

back with [Arista Records founder] Mr. Clive Davis, so that we can get

back into radio again, because radio is the frequency that a lot of young

people are turning to. It's important to present them more principles,

more menus, more opportunities, more dimensions, more possibilities."

That's why he sought collaborators in a variety of pop genres, from rock

to blues to hip-hop, he said.

Working with Santana was incredible, said Jean, who co-wrote and co-produced

"Maria Maria." "He just plays what he feels. ... He's got a vibe and a

tone about him that no one can duplicate."

"Maria Maria" is a sociopolitical ode to a Latina who "fell in love in

East L.A./ To the sounds of the guitar/ Played by Carlos Santana." Santana

fingerpicks Spanish classical guitar, then he cuts across with a hook

that could easily find its way into the mix at dance clubs — especially

now that other Latin performers, including Ricky Martin and Jennifer

Lopez, have struck a chord with pop fans.

Santana said Supernatural is not simply a group of Santana tunes

with guest stars singing on them. Rather, he said, he and his collaborators

wrote the songs together, creating true melds of the various musical

flavors.

"Probably the most spontaneous [of the collaborators] was Wyclef," Greg

DiGiovine of Santana's management team said. "He came in and rented all

this gear, all of these computers, and programmed drum machines —

every which thing under the sun — and basically just began to create

a vibe right on the spot. Looking for the groove, programming the groove,

and Carlos just playing."

Hill made her appearance on "Do You Like the Way," returning a favor to

the guitar legend. Santana played on her critically acclaimed, Grammy-winning

debut solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. He's also

contributed to recordings by bluesman John Lee Hooker and Junior Wells

and soul singer Aretha Franklin, among others.

"Do You Like the Way" rides the soul train, blending hip-hop beats and

rhymes with '70s-flavored horns and crunchy, wah-wah guitar. A second

track with Hill wasn't completed in time for the album's release.

The Santana-Matthews composition, "Love of My Life" (RealAudio

excerpt), offers a fat and sultry guitar call-and-response with

a bedroom-seduction vocal from Matthews: "I can't forget the taste of

your mouth/ From your lips all the heavens pour out." Midsong, the rhythm

section switches into a Latin groove, while Santana plays a solo that

incorporates Latin jazz, slow-jam soul and hard rock.

"The Calling," the first recorded meeting between Santana and Clapton in

more than 20 years, incorporates probably the heaviest groove ever on a

Santana album.

Santana and Everlast, by contrast, mix slow acoustic strumming with grungy,

distorted chord chops on "Put Your Lights On" (RealAudio

excerpt), which features haunting yet uplifting lyrics from the

singer best known for "What It's Like" (RealAudio

excerpt). Everlast (born Erik Schrody), who recently recovered

from heart surgery, sings, "There's an angel with a hand on my head/ She

says I've got nothing to fear/ There's a darkness deep in my soul/ I still

got a purpose to serve/ So let your light shine."

"Believe me, I am honored that he would share it in my album because the

message in that song is ... 'put your lights on' — crystallize your

intentions, motives and purpose," said Santana, gesturing to a poster of

the album's cover art — an illustration by artist Michael Rios that

Santana sees as a blueprint for the record.

After 30 years of constant touring and recording, Santana said, the music

comes easily. The spiritual message is what he strives to get across

through the medium of music.

"I feel like we're watching the tail end of the parade of good and evil,"

Santana said. "We're starting to see a new parade coming, where it's a

win-win situation for a lot of people."

(Contributing Editor Brian Hiatt contributed to this report.)