Santana: Africa Speaks Review


            Legendary Latin rock pioneer Carlos Santana has returned with Africa Speaks, a collection of African-inspired songs laced with his eclectic mix of rock, Latin music, jazz and jazz fusion. Despite the intentional lack of high-profile guest stars in exchange for various appearances from ethnic singers Buika and Laura Mvula, among others, the album has already done well enough for itself to reach #3 on the U.S Billboard Hot 200. Perhaps it has to do with the assistance in production from legendary producer Rick Rubin, or maybe it is the sheer power of the record itself that has lead it to the promised land of high chart peaks and rave reviews. Here today, as always, we will deliver the verdict. 

            Off the bat, we enter with the title track, a sweeping and dramatic number opened up with a spoken-word intro that clears up any sort of confusion about the thematics of the record: “All and everything was conceived here in Africa, the cradle of civilization”. Buika emerges and heads to work straight after, adding an enchanting flare to an already rolling and mysterious sound that breaks into an upbeat, conga-assisted tribal groove reminiscent of earlier Santana records. The infectious percussion work continues over into “Batonga” and with a simple, uncrowded bass track underneath allows plenty of room for Buika’s vocals and Santana’s guitar work to brightly shine through. 

With an initial blast of contagious, danceable rhythm out of the way, “Oye Este Mi Canto” relaxes the mood of the album down to 50 percent while letting Buika continue to soar and flourish, breaking into a higher-tempo guitar solo before settling back down to keep the dynamics at a pleasurable equilibrium. “Yo Me Lo Merezco”, likewise is an exercise in contained force and genre blending and experimentation; laying an unlikely combination of Buika’s Spanish vocals over a track, at first, reminiscent of the late 60’s psychedelia that greatly influenced Carlos Santana early on in his career, then shifting over to a high-pace Latin groove that upticks the energy of the song straight to its climax at just over 6 minutes long.

            Santana continues onward to explore his voluminous sonic possibilities, navigated by an effective use of dynamics and captivating composition. “Blue Skies” grooves on relaxedly for nine minutes, making space for a grand guitar showcase by one C. Santana halfway through and introducing Laura Mvula as a vocalist alongside Buika in the first two thirds of the song. “Paraisos Quemados” moves into slightly funkier territory, a tour de force in the distinctive Santana sound that has endured for over fifty years tinged with the unique and captivating journeys into African music that Santana has set out on on this record. The sole single of the album, “Breaking Down The Door” is intelligently constructed in that it is by far the shortest track on the album at 4 minutes long, and moves in on the Reggaeton-esque rhythms that have become ever popular on mainstream pop records from “Despacito” and beyond. Buika’s vocal work continues to be stellar and absolutely fitting as well.

            “Los Invisibles” opens up on what sounds like a distinctly Eastern rhythm and graduates into slap-bass funk mixed in with Afro-Latin music, amounting to an amazing, punchy song around the board. Likewise, “Luna Hechicera” is loaded with soul and power on one hand from Buika, and irresistible funk and rhythm from bassist Benny Rietveld. “Bembele” follows in like fashion with yet more chilled-out-yet-dance-worthy world grooves, though not escalating at any point for a guitar break and maintaining a consistent temperature throughout.

As the album closer, “Candombe Cumbele” acts as one last burst of jazziness, grooviness, funkiness, worldliness… it suits to call it a last burst of everything for lack of any sort of better terms to describe the final track to a musical tour de force. The final fadeout into Buika’s vocals is doubly appropriate as a closing note, putting the light on an excellent choice of album casting on the part of a man who successfully set out to prove that he still had it after all these years.

            From beginning to end, Africa Speaks is a spectacular, voluminous record that solidifies Carlos Santana and the band under his namesake as a trailblazing and legendary force in the merging of rock music with various world genres into a mix that everyone can enjoy, listen and dance to. It further goes to show that while he has established and refined an easily identifiable sound over the decades, he has no hesitation about expansion and experimentation and has everything in his creative power to make it work. If Woodstock 50 does indeed happen this summer, I’m sure it will be a pleasure to see Santana and co. commemorate a milestone event in music they partook in many moons ago, and by attracting new and younger listeners maybe even contribute to what some of the music press are noting as a possible rock-and-roll revival in the near future.

RATING: 4.5/5