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Cindy Blackman Santana Came to Play

Saying Cindy Blackman Santana has drumming chops for days is like saying the sun rises in the east. She’s long since proven her mettle behind the kit for the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Ron Carter, and Joss Stone—not to mention the otherworldly musical mindmeld that materializes whenever she plays with Carlos Santana, her husband for over a decade. But on her new album, Give the Drummer Some (Copperline Music Group), Santana opted to up the creative ante by singing lead vocals on nearly half of its 17 tracks. The idea to step up to the mic multiple times actually sprang forth from the warm reception she received for her unexpected debut lead vocal on “I Remember,” a key track from Power of Peace, the underrated 2017 collaborative album between the Isley Brothers and Santana.

The breadth of her star “I Remember” vocal turn soon enough caught the attention of Narada Michael Walden, an ace drummer in his own right who also sports a proven studio track record for having produced many soaring lead vocal showcases from Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin. All told, Walden wound up producing seven tracks on Give the Drummer Some, and Santana couldn’t be more pleased. “He’s got such an amazing ear, and an awesome melodic sense,” she reports. “Narada can see and hear something in place before it’s even there. He definitely helped with my vocal inflections and the various other things a vocalist needs to do that I wouldn’t ordinarily know how to do.”

Additionally, Give the Drummer Some rolls out the red carpet for spotlighting stunning guitar moments from John McLaughlin (furiously fulfilling the titular directive of “We Came to Play”), Kirk Hammett and Vernon Reid (trading many a fiery lick on “Evolution Revolution”), and the aforementioned Carlos Santana (serving up masterstroke improv riffage lessons on “Twilight Mask”). Meanwhile, Santana’s own kit skills shine steadfast and true on deep-rooted cuts like the jazz-inflected “Miles Away,” the fusion-infused “Velocity,” and the percussive powerhouse “Mother Earth.” The drummer also ensures her lead vocals on the heartfelt and quite timely cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and her joyful scatting on “Everybody’s Dancin’” carry equal weight. 

Santana has long made an ongoing practice of zeroing in on the melodies of instrumental passages performed by Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and John Coltrane, and then singing them to herself. “It’s something that comes natural to me,” she admits. “I love hearing all the different intervallic combinations and the way these artists hear melodies on top of the songs they’re playing. I want to see what notes they chose over this chord, why they work, and why they sound so beautiful. Why is that note creating this tension? Why is this note creating the release? Why does that space sound incredible here with the note that’s been played prior to or after it?”

One need only cue up the sensual workout of “I Need a Drummer” to see just how Santana’s Prince-like falsetto meshes perfectly with her inherently explosive nature behind the kit. “I like it when drums are prominent in the music, because that’s the pulse,” she explains. “And on this album, I wanted the drums to be mixed a certain way. We had to work on making sure all the harmonics that were supposed to be there came through, and that they were clear. There were some tracks where the vocals had to be a little more prominent, so we found the balances that worked for each song. But I really do like the drums to be up in the mix. I mean, this is a drummer’s record!” Santana concludes with a hearty laugh.

Santana realizes the overall scope of Give the Drummer Some cuts a wide musical swath, but also feels it reflects the many distinct aspects of her own personality. “Every day we wake up, we show different facets of ourselves,” she allows. “There are a lot of directions on this record, but it’s a real and true offering of all the musical fields and genres I love.” Her ultimate reasoning for doing it that way was quite simple: “I have to be honest with what I’m doing—and it’s all about the honesty for me, you know? This is how I get to offer up my heart.” Given all the musical doors opened and walked through on this album, it’s clear that the next time Cindy Blackman Santana decides to explore her solo path, she’s fully prepared to give the drummer some more. 


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