Carlos and Cindy partnered with WhyHunger — an organization founded by Harry Chapin in 1975 — and SongAid, a global platform that allows artists to donate proceeds to charities. The cover also appears on Cindy’s upcoming album, Give the Drummer Some, slated for mid-September release.
“Now more than ever, it’s important that we all come together to ensure no one in our world goes hungry,” Yoko Ono said in a statement. “I am excited that Cindy Blackman Santana and Carlos Santana’s beautiful rendition of ‘Imagine’ is helping to kick off this important campaign and bring my late husband John Lennon’s vision of a peaceful world, free from hunger, to this critical cause.”
Beginning Friday, SongAid will release a weekly playlist of songs by artists contributing to the cause, with proceeds going to WhyHunger’s Rapid Response Fund. In addition to “Imagine,” other tracks on this week’s playlist include Tom Morello’s “Save the Hammer for the Man,” Darryl “DMC” McDaniel and the Hellraisers’ “I Was Born” and “Take the ‘A’ Train” by the Silkroad Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma. Future artists to appear on playlists include Wilco, Steve Miller and more.
Carlos and Cindy called Rolling Stone from their home in Hawaii — where they’ve been hunkered down in quarantine since March — to discuss the cover, life in isolation and the future of Santana. “This is the time and the place to say that John Lennon was ahead of a lot of people with ‘Imagine,'” Carlos says. “It’s about love and love alone.”
Why did you choose to cover “Imagine”?
Cindy: We were in the studio with Narada [Michael Walden] and every song that we had done up to that point was original. He said, “If you were going to cover a song, any song, what song would it be? What are your top three?” And this was my top one [laughs]. I love the simplicity of the song. I think it’s really beautiful. It’s a message that we need, especially now.
Did you guys talk to Yoko about it?
Carlos: No, not outwardly. Inwardly, yes.
Cindy: We didn’t talk to her about it, but we did get the thumbs up of approval when she heard it. She said she loved it, so we’re really honored.
What kind of impact do you think the song has on the pandemic?
Carlos: People are invited to use their imagination because imagination is a muscle. John Lennon and George Harrison, they had a different vista awareness of collective consciousness commonality; it’s not that that Paul [McCartney] doesn’t or Ringo [Starr] doesn’t. But as you can tell by the songs John wrote, they transcend. They hang with immortality in a different way.
I truly believe that John Lennon was a warrior reincarnated with war paint on his face, but he wanted to create peace. In other words, when you have war paint on your face, it means that you’re not afraid to die and you don’t take crap from anybody. So to me, John Lennon is the warrior and George Harrison was a spiritual peace warrior and I admire both qualities immensely.
Why did you decide to partner with WhyHunger?
Cindy: This is the first chance that I’ve had, and I believe that Carlos has had, to work with them. We are very impressed because their mission statement is stated in their title: What they want to do is feed people.
We’ve noticed that they’ve been very diligently trying to put together these song releases; our song will be the lead track of this campaign. They’ve been working really hard. We love their integrity and we love their work ethic and we love the fact that they are doing this for the right reason.
Cindy, what is it like to prepare to release an album in the middle of a pandemic?
Cindy: It actually feels necessary. Carlos’ sound and energy is uplifting as soon as you hear it. It touches your core, it touches your heart. That, coupled with the lyrics that we have, the songs that we’ve chosen, and the overall energy of the record — it feels like it’s right to release it now because we want to uplift people. We want to help raise the vibration of every single person and every single piece of creation on this planet and in this realm.
And so we really feel that this is the right time to release this record. We’re motivated by helping, uplifting and inspiring people. Showing people that they are light and helping them feel their own heart centers and cores, because that will uplift the vibratory frequency of everyone else.
With all of this unexpected time that we’re spending at home, what have you both been up to?
Carlos: Basically focusing even more on crystallizing our intention for the highest good like we always have, but now it takes a whole new meaning. I think the message we can get from what we’re learning collectively from this situation is that everyone is invited to become a spiritual adult. Spiritual adults only see love, they don’t see religion.
Ego is like, “My daddy is better than your daddy,” and, “My religion is better and you’re gonna go to hell.” That’s adolescent ego. But the spiritual adult is when we’re all in heaven and we don’t have to die. We all nurture one another [and] feed one another. People who are really in a place to really live their spiritual adultness, they become more gentle, more kind, more compassionate, and more vibrant.
What are your days like in Hawaii?
Carlos: Let’s see, take photographs of the sunrise, say hi to the roosters and the chickens that are everywhere here. We are just very grateful. Cindy and I, we keep looking into each other’s eyes and the honeymoon is perpetually forever now. Especially here, we witness how the world is navigating itself.
How often are you playing guitar at home?
Carlos: Not enough. I am finding that it is better for me really late at night, probably after 12 or one, that’s when … Because, you know, I’ve been saying it for a long time, thanks for listening. I don’t practice my guitar, I take my fingers out for a walk. And we walk with Michael Jackson or Marvin Gaye or Coltrane. I take my fingers for a walk with Aretha Franklin and I stay close, I hold their hands, they hold my hands, and I take my fingers for a walk with my guitar and Aretha, or Billie Holiday, you know. In this way, I am able to honor the melody. Melody is what will heal and bring together this planet. Besides, melody is the mystical music medicine. That will heal this planet, you will see.
You had a really busy year lined up with your Las Vegas residency and a tour with Earth, Wind and Fire. What is it like to not be able to perform?
Carlos: I trust my faith, and my faith teaches me to accept that what I can do, I can do very well, and what I can’t do, I let it go. At the right time, we will be able to play with a thousand times more energy, fire and passion because we’ve been basically just reading, resting, and eating, and taking walks by the beach. I’m ready to just tear it up, in a good way.
I’m 72, but I feel like I’m 17, not even 27. I want to get into some serious adventure. So I’m grateful that we have the opportunity to possibly do this next year with our brothers Earth, Wind and Fire. I learned a long time ago that a path of love devotion is surrender — and surrender is a beautiful thing, too. When you first surrender to the ocean, you don’t get wiped out so much. You become part of the ocean. So I surrender to where we are right now. I feel like I’m becoming more.
Are you worried that by the time you can perform again, it will be hard to resume at your age?
Carlos: No, I don’t worry about nothing. I trust the spirit in me. When you have awareness that God gave you knowledge, energy and emotions, you can do miracles and blessings. That’s not for Jesus or Buddha or Krishna or Mother Teresa or the Pope. They’re not the only ones that can do that. Everyone can do miracles and blessings. You just have to get your ego out of the way.
Will you feel comfortable performing before a vaccine has come out?
Carlos: Yes. I’m not afraid of death, but I would be very concerned for our beloved audience. I wouldn’t want them to pay the price. I don’t necessarily believe in the vaccine. I believe in miracles and I believe that the shamans, the American Indians and the people of the land, have the means to transmogrify the molecular cells of the coronavirus. I don’t necessarily trust humans in the laboratory coming up with the solution, because they’re the ones that fucked it up in the first place.
I really enjoyed Santana IV, but you guys didn’t do a proper tour. Do you ever think you’ll reunite with the original band again?
Carlos: It’s not impossible. Hopefully in the future. I know that Neal [Schon] is very emotionally invested with Journey, and Gregg Rolie is emotionally invested with Ringo. I’m emotionally invested with God, Cindy and whatever gets in front of me music-wise.
Have you guys been listening to any kind of music while you’ve been there?
Cindy: Oh, yes, we listen to music all the time. My favorite music is jazz, so there’s always that in my repertoire and in my daily listening I do. Everybody from Miles Davis to Coltrane, Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Billie Holiday.
Carlos: Yes. Jazz is very evolved music. With all respect, it’s not greasy kid stuff. I’ve been saying it a long time: jazz is an ocean and then you have a lake and then you have a bathtub. Some people are in the bathtub; they’re afraid to go to the lake. I hang around a deep lake, I don’t necessarily go to the ocean with Charlie Parker and Coltrane. If you take the names in the genre, you’re dealing with frequency, and the frequency that Cindy and I listen to is the frequency of spiritual consciousness that moves the heart.
Is there anything that you want to say to your fans right now?
Cindy: I hope that people in this time use these moments to push the reset button. There’s never been a time in our history where the whole world has slowed down for a bit. Some parts are starting to pick up, but there’s still a pause button. So I would like to call this the Great Pause.
Instead of a quarantine, I would like to look at it as an incubation, so that we can birth a new everything. A new us, a new you, a new me, a new way that we treat society, a new way that we treat our elders. We don’t want people to think of negativities as their go-to. We want people to see light and to see the divinity in everyone and in all of creation.
Carlos: Let me say it slow: May the heavens open up and the angels bless each and every one with the deep awareness of your own light.