The High Times Interview: Carlos Santana

In the pantheon of rock’n’roll greats, two guitarists transcend all the rest: Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana. Both played Woodstock in 1969 and delivered legendary performances.

Sadly, Jimi died in 1970. But Carlos plays on.

To call Carlos Santana a living rock god is hardly an exaggeration: He has sold over 100 million records and reached more than 100 million fans worldwide. At 69, he continues to tour internationally, and his concerts grow more passionate and musically diverse with each passing year. He’s been a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for nearly two decades and was also the recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors Award in 2013.

In person, Santana is gentle and soft-spoken, smiling easily and often. He’s a deeply spiritual man whose conversations are punctuated with references to the divine, “the spirit that moves through all of us.” His legacy of social activism is notable as well: The Milagro Foundation, which he established with his family in 1998, has paid out more than $5 million to nonprofit programs that support underserved young people in areas like the arts, education and health.

These days, Santana frequently discusses our urgent need for self-discovery, especially in recognizing the insidious illusion that has been imposed on us: that we are powerless to change ourselves and our world. The tool for achieving this crucial enlightenment is cannabis, which Santana calls “a gift from heaven to human consciousness for healing and for awakening.”

HT: Tell us about your history with marijuana.
CS: When I was a child, I worked in an herb store. I’ve seen and smelled weed all my life, because I grew up in Tijuana. But people wouldn’t do it around me; they purposely would go in the alleys and places. Other doctors called it “mumbo-jumbo”—even though they make mumbo-jumbo in the laboratories.

I’d forgotten that my mom used to use it. She used to whisper to me, “Get me a lid.” So I brought her a lid and she’d dip it into alcohol, leave it there about a day or two, then use it for different ailments. How the hell did she know? It’s innate. Your DNA allows you to remember something that was dormant.

I first started smoking around 1967. I came to San Francisco around the time when it was ground zero for conscious evolution, with the hippies in Haight-Ashbury. I remember after I took my first toke, I said to this guy in the band that “when you smoke a joint, you forget all of the shit that you can’t play right.” They were like, “What?”

I wanted to go a certain way playing. But then I realized it was like rubber-stamping: Certain things don’t have to go like that every day. The thing about music is that, unless it’s classical music, the music that we love is all about improvisation. You learn the mechanics and then you let you go.

I noticed that the music I was listening to suddenly became a sphere. I was listening to Jeff Beck and the Yardbirds—“Over, Under, Sideways, Down”—and then I was listening to “For Your Love.” I was like: “Oh, this sounds so different!” I had heard the song about four or five times already, and I realized that my whole sensory of hearing and feeling was different. Actually, I wasn’t clear what I was listening to—instead of a black-and-white TV, I had big surround sound and high definition.

HT: How would you describe your own musical evolution?
CS: When I was a child, Armando Peraza [the late Latin jazz percussionist] said to me: “Hey, youngblood, I wanna talk to you. All that shit that you wanna play? You have to learn how to breathe correctly. Because it takes so much energy and so much breath—if you don’t sit right and breathe correctly, you’re going to keel over and pass out.”

It’s kind of like going up in the mountains, to the Himalayas. You have to learn how to adapt and change, make a conscious change.

HT: Any thoughts on today’s music?
CS: I can tell you, with any album that you play right now, whether people created it consciously or unconsciously. Like Stravinsky or Coltrane or Jimi Hendrix or the Beatles—I can tell you who was experimenting with dimensions. Lately, when you hear the radio, there are no dimensions; most of the Top 10 music you hear is really flat and shallow. It’s not profound anymore. It’s very disposable, like Colonel Sanders packaging or something. Even rapping, after a while, sounds so much the same. As musicians, what we miss is the constant … what we call brilliant, new and fresh. That’s what’s going out the window right now.

HT: You’ve been talking about cannabis for years, often slipping in favorable comments in the middle of your concerts.
CS: I am so stimulated to be part of something that carries a frequency of healing. I am inspired. Cindy [Blackman, Santana’s wife and the band’s drummer] and I are constantly taking account of who we’re meeting and why we’re meeting them: Why is this person suddenly here, instead of over here or over there?

It’s because like attracts like. All of us are attracted to people who want the same thing that we want. What do we want? Like the Doors used to say, “We want the world, and we want it now.” But we want the healing world. We don’t want this world anymore—this world that’s sick with grief, sick with violence and brutality and greed. We want a world that believes that it can be successful.

There’s a reason why a lot of people didn’t want us to deal with marijuana. They don’t want you to wake up from the nightmare of being dependent on those whose only agenda is to enslave you into thinking that you’re limited, you’re unworthy, you’re full of poop. When you say, “I’ve got something the world needs … I’m something the world needs,” that’s the opposite of all that.

HT: When you say that cannabis has a “frequency of healing,” what do you mean?
CS: It’s a gift from heaven to human consciousness for healing and for awakening—and to stay awake from the nightmare of separation. I would say it’s the key factor to help humans use divine reason.

HT: How does that manifest itself?
CS: It helps you to remember that the most precious thing that God gave you, besides life, is your uniqueness and individuality. It’s your own voice, your own symmetry, whether you’re a guitar player or a poet—whoever you are. You don’t have to go to Christ or to the government, being patriotic … baa-aa!

Christians call Jesus the “pastor,” because people are dumb like sheep. They have to follow Him … baa-aa!

But Jesus said, “Follow your own light.” That way, you don’t have to be a sheep. We can be as wise as snakes and as peaceful as doves.

HT: And you believe cannabis promotes that?
CS: It’s tried, true and tested healing, you know? Where I am right now is that I keep believing there’s some way to correct the crooked, twisted mindset of humans. It’s almost like we’re at the end of our rope—there’s too much fear out there.

HT: The Hopi prophecy says something similar: that we’re entering an age of transformation or an age of destruction—and the choice is up to us. Is that what you’re talking about?
CS: We are collectively in a dream in this world that we created ourselves: the illusion caused by not listening to the inner voice. I say this constantly. I pray about it.

The CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon and Hollywood sell more fear than anything else on this planet. The more you sell fear, the more people invest in protecting themselves from something that doesn’t really fucking exist. When you wake up to self-discovery, the self-deception ends. It’s the end of self-deception. It’s not that the world’s going to end, with volcanoes and all that stuff. What’s going to end is the frequency of greed, the mentality of Ronald Reagan, George Bush, LBJ, Nixon—the mentality of people who say: “Without me, the world don’t roll.”

Right now, 200 named tribes are going to Standing Rock [site of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline project] from all over the world. They’re saying to the people of the world to straighten up, because this is the crossroads—whether we go right or we go wrong. No more oil in our water, no more waste going into aquifers that will ruin all of our land.

We are waking out of the dream of separation and distance from our own light. And this is the most important thing in our music.

HT: How are people “waking”?
CS: People are waking from the illusion of not being worthy, of being separated from the highest power you have … and the highest power you have is to not let go of the hand of the everyday Holy Spirit inside you. Jesus never said we have to jump through hoops or fast to be worthy. You are worthy of God’s grace. You’re inseparable.

Let me start from the beginning here. The beginning is that a beam of light tells each plant what color, what texture, what flavor, what aroma—all that. And when the plant dries, it tells us when, for example, is the best time to make tea out of it to correct the liver. For humans, the photosynthesis, the beam of light that helps us transmogrify the molecular structure in ourselves, is when we get high.

When you smoke weed, it makes you think with a different mind. This is the gift. It’s where we get the most energy in our lives; we’re in a good, beautiful place. This is the time and the place where we help break the illusion-nightmare—the nightmare of having limitations, of being not worthy and with sin.

Be yourself, because everyone else is taken. People have forgotten how to be themselves. Breathe in and remember always that you have never not been; you always will be. Celebrate you.

For me, this is what it’s all about. You can get high while healing yourself—and I don’t mean getting stoned or fucked up. No, you get high knowing that you can will yourself to be in good health, with clarity and peace of mind.

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