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Conversation With Carlos Santana

The Mexican-born guitar legend riffs on the '60s, divorce, grandchildren and laughter

Carlos Santana On Stage / Carlos Santana en concierto

Christie Goodwin/Getty Images

"I am a triumphant, victorious lion. Roar against fear and make it disappear," says Carlos Santana, whose memoir, “The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light,” comes out in November.

En español |  Q: You might be best remembered for "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va." Is there anything you'd like to bring back from the '60s?

A: We need more loving, more events in the streets, with congas, music and colors and people dancing. When you dance, you shake off fear.

Anything else?

What's missing more than anything is the principle expressed in songs like "Imagine," "One Love," "Blowin' in the Wind," "What a Wonderful World," "What's Going On." If you play them 24 hours a day in shopping malls or elevators, you can stop a lot of violence, assaults on women, child abuse. The songs remind humans, when they listen to them, to be more compassionate.

You first played the violin with your dad as teacher.

I tried. But the more I tried, the more I suffered because I knew I couldn't get the beauty of tone that he had. His sound was very elegant and romantic. I sounded like an alley cat.

After you switched to your electric guitar, you promised your mom you'd still practice the violin. Do you?

No, no, I'm grateful I don't. I really found my voice in the guitar.

And your parents realized that?

It takes time sometimes to believe that your children's dreams can become real. It's almost like you have to prove to parents that the vision from your soul is unstoppable, that you're not wasting your life on something that is not real.

How have your relationships with your three children changed now that they are adults?

We're still crystallizing that because they are just like me. I encourage them in any way that I can. No one has to suffer, but sometimes people think that they do in order to create beauty.

You wrote in your book that you're not a purebred, but a mutt.

I used to perceive incorrectly who I was. We [Latinos] grew up with the mentality of being victims or villains. I changed all that. I am a triumphant, victorious lion. Roar against fear and make it disappear.

Your breakup with your first wife, Deborah, after 34 years was extremely painful. Any advice for others?

Yes! Do it lovingly and do it honorably, and accept that that particular relationship has been accomplished. I had a choice: either to do that or to go out like Robin Williams. At that moment, my veins hurt. My heart was being burned alive. But all that remains from the past relationship is beauty and blessings.

In 2010, you married Cindy Blackman, on tour now as Lenny Kravitz's drummer. Will she be your drummer?

Lenny Kravitz needs to find another drummer. She's going to be my drummer, and I'm going to be her guitar player. There's going to be equality in vision and direction — and I'm really content with that.

Are you looking forward to having grandchildren?

I'm looking forward to having another child; that's what I'm looking for. Yeah, if my kids don't hurry up. A baby named Joshua if it's a boy and Milagro de Luz if a girl.

You mention laughter a lot in your memoir.

Cindy and I watch a lot of videos of Rodney Dangerfield. He's so funny. It's important to laugh. That's a T-shirt: "Laugh at fear."

You and your family created the Milagro Foundation. You also have commercial lines of salsa, shoes and tequila.

Everything that we do with shoes, tequila, this or that, goes to help young people with education, with healing psychologically, a whole myriad of things to help people all over the world, women and children.

Is there one very important thing boomers need to know?

Con tu luz, sí se puede. With your light, it can be done.

Carlos Santana's memoir, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light, came out Nov. 4.

Playlist for Higher Consciousness

Carlos Santana has put together a playlist — “Masterpiece of Joy,” he calls it — that he says can make people more compassionate. The lyrics are important, and to experience the proper flow, the songs should be listened to in the order below.

1.   What a Wonderful World                               (Louis Armstrong)
2.   What’s Going On                                           (Marvin Gaye)
3.   One Love                                                       (Bob Marley)
4.   Imagine                                                          (John Lennon)
5.   Blowin’ in the Wind                                        (Bob Dylan)
6.   A Change Is Gonna Come                            (Sam Cooke)
7.   No Woman, No Cry                                       (Bob Marley)
8. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman   (Aretha Franklin)
9.   Just Like a Woman                                        (Roberta Flack)
10. Amazing Grace                                              (Lisbeth Scott)
11. Redemption Song                                          (Bob Marley)
12. Acknowledgement                                         (Doug Carn)
13. A Love Supreme                                            (Alice Coltrane)