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 26-year-old keyboardist, vocalist, composer, and songwriter with strong Bay Area roots, knows what it means to navigate the infinite options of music. His 2008 innovative debut with the Salvador Santana Band - simply called SSB - pursued the scope of his ability. But for Santana, it wasn't enough. He has no choice but to push himself further.
He's fast at work, up and down the West Coast, recording a follow-up album that has him dropping the Band portion of SSB's moniker, placing the focus solely on Salvador Santana. Of course, he's not doing it alone. Collaboration has always been the centerpiece of his creations, and his yet untitled record is being built around the inspirations of two legends: Bay Area MC/producer Del the Funky Homosapien and Beastie Boy studio wizard Money Mark.
"With all the people I've ever collaborated with or just working by myself, I have never produced so many ideas into songs as I have during these Money Mark sessions. That guy is just a machine."
While Del is helping Santana hone his writing skills, Money Mark is opening up a way of recording that was previously unknown. He has turned Santana's ADD, something he heard was a handicap his entire life, into a tool for genius.
"ADD isn't a deficiency, it's actually just another way of learning. The way most schools want you to learn, doesn't apply to me. And kicking it with Money Mark, him being older than me and kind of mentoring me, he's showing me that it's cool to be all over the place. It's cool to sit there and work on a song, then out of nowhere, interrupt everything and work on another idea. To just go with it."
The disparate sounds of SSB were born out of live performances remade in the studio, with the exception of "Summer's Day," a catchy California anthem produced by Jurassic 5's DJ Nu-Mark. The song stood out among many stand outs, melding hip-hop and Beach Boys breeze, on an album that seamlessly moved through rock, funk, R&B and traditional Latin rhythms. Nu-Mark's production and Santana's keyboards are the foundation of "Summer's Day," eschewing the live instruments found on the rest of SSB, and it's the spark that drives the new record.
"With the last record, even though you get a variety of music, I feel like it was limited. And I don't want anything to sound limited on this new record, I want each song to be its own thing. And it's already turning out like that."
Santana is pushed by a need to step out of his comfort zone in a quest for new ideas. He jokingly says that he wants to combine polka and trance for a whole new genre of music, but as the saying goes, there's truth in every joke. "Even if there's a jazz song next to a reggae song, because there's something reoccurring, a through-line across the whole record, people will be able to feel why those songs are linked together."
Easy going and humble, Santana exudes the Bay Area vibe. He 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 San Francisco's heralded School of the Arts before attending Cal Arts in Valencia, CA. His education, passion and lineage has turned Santana into a monster on the keys, leading him to say that he's "a musician first, a vocalist second and a performer second-and-a-half."
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. And, of course, his father is 10X Grammy-winning Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Carlos Santana...who's also a frequent collaborator (Salvador got a Grammy for co-composing "El Farol" from 1999's smash album Supernatural).
But with his upcoming project, Salvador Santana will truly become a brand of his own.
"With the last record I was very passive and insecure, only because I wasn't listening to my gut, allowing my second opinions to get to me. Knowing what I know now, I could have played that part better. I don't ever want to have that feeling ever again."
In addition to his musical desires, Santana has worldly efforts on his mind. After a trip to South Africa and inspiring work with Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA), something triggered inside of Santana to make sure his music wasn't only about personal glory. Once the record is released and he begins touring the project, Salvador will be posting various non-profit organizations on his website that will receive a percentage of the profits. "I want to use music in a positive way, and give back to people in need. There can never be enough people who do that." And there can never be enough musicians pushing their art to the brink.