In Search of Mona LisaSantana
Legendary musician Carlos Santana will release a dramatic new EP, In Search of Mona Lisa, on January 25 via Concord Records. On three spellbinding and transportive new songs, the multiple GRAMMY-winning guitarist and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee takes listeners inside a magical and deeply personal experience he had when he visited the Louvre Museum for the first time and set his eyes on Leonardo da Vinci’s beguiling masterpiece.
In all of the years that the guitar icon had visited Paris, he had never been to the Louvre, but on a recent day off while on tour, he decided to go to the museum with his wife, drummer Cindy Blackman Santana, and his family. All it took was one look into the implacable eyes of the Mona Lisa for Santana to feel as though something strange and powerful was taking place.
As he recalls, “I heard her say to me, ‘Hi.’ It was stunning, and I didn’t know what to say back, so I just said, ‘Hi.’ And then she said, ‘Do you remember me? When we were lovers in another time?’ It was the most incredible occurrence, and in a way, it was kind of perfect that I had never been to the Louvre before, because this might not have happened at another time. I had to be who I am now, knowing that God is everywhere and that He was saying, ‘I love you,’ by sending me this message of inspiration and visualization.”
The experience came flooding back to Santana months later, when he awoke from a dream with the lyrics to what would become the songs “In Search of Mona Lisa” and “Do You Remember Me” fully formed in his mind. “It was the first time that I ever woke up and lyrics were there in a tangible way,” he reveals. “I could just grab them and write the songs.”
Much in the same way that the Mona Lisa asked, “Do you remember me?” Santana begins the song of the same name with a striking guitar figure, an invitation to dance. Once the band kicks in with a graceful Afro-Cuban groove (courtesy of Cindy on drums, with Karl Perazzo on congas, timbales and percussion), Santana opens up on a full five minutes of some of his most gorgeous soloing yet – his lead lines are stinging, teasing, crying and sensuous – before singers Andy Vargas and Ray Greene take over.
Remarkably, the song was captured in a single take in which Santana and his band recorded with Rick Rubin at the renowned producer’s Shangri-la Studio in Malibu. “Miles Davis and Bob Dylan always said that the first take is the best, and I have to agree,” Santana says. “You can hear the innocence in the music. That’s a nutrient that’s missing on this planet right now.”
The EP’s title track sets an entirely different mood. Santana had shown his lyrics for “In Search of Mona Lisa” to multiple GRAMMY and Emmy-winning producer Narada Michael Walden (whose reputation as a powerhouse drummer began with a stint in the Mahavishu Orchestra), who suggested a Bo Diddley-esque rhythm. “I wasn’t expecting that, but I immediately liked the idea,” Santana says. With Walden rocking a rave-up drumbeat (he also overdubbed bass and keyboards), Santana lets loose with biting, wah-drenched call-and-response phrases with singer Cornell “CC” Carter before he takes flight on an impassioned extended guitar solo.
While “In Search of Mona Lisa” was being recorded, Cindy suggested doing something more symphonic and bringing in bass master Ron Carter. “That’s all I needed to hear,” Santana enthuses. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God. Of course!” The resulting track, “Lovers From Another Time,” unfolds much like the painting that inspired the music itself, with the dual drumming of Cindy and Walden mixing with Carter’s elegant basslines to create a living and breathing canvas on which Santana splashes vibrant six-string colors and textures.
“You really can’t go wrong when you have Ron Carter playing with you,” the guitarist observes. “He’s played with Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery and, of course, Miles. He should be in the Guinness Worlds Records for excellence.”
Of collaborating with Walden, Santana is no less effusive: “Working with Narada is always a pleasure. He’s gentle and exciting at the same time, a truly brilliant genius. He’s worked with Whitney Houston, Aretha, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, so he knows how to create great material. His musical knowledge is vast, and I appreciate all that he has to offer.”
Producer and co-composer Narada Michael Walden said, “It was a great honor and delight to work on these new songs. The tracks were composed with Carlos under his direction of the experience he had while gazing at the beautiful Mona Lisa painting. I listened to Carlos’ stories implicitly and ran with his inspiration and lyrics to make a new sound and a new frequency of music for his love story. I’m thrilled about the release and this new music for the world to dance too and be deeply moved by.”