By Bill Milkowski | Published August 2019
Since playing Olatunji’s “Jingo” on his 1969 debut, guitarist Carlos Santana has dug deep into the sounds and rhythms of the African continent, and on this potent outing, he digs deeper than ever. His most inspired, most fully realized album since 1970’s Abraxas, Africa Speaks is not only a forum for searing licks; it also serves as a showcase for Spanish singer-poet-lyricist Buika, who delivers an uncommon intensity, taking these heightened jams to a more exalted level. She melds that singular quality with Santana’s incendiary guitar work, pushing the leader to some ecstatic heights in their call-and-response exchanges.
From the anthemic opener to the mesmerizing 12/8 closer, “Candombe Cumbele,” with its allusions to Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue,” Santana holds nothing back here. Combining Albert King-influenced string bending with his own unique brand of speed picking, the septuagenarian guitarist plays with as much zeal and abandon as he exhibited on the Woodstock stage back in 1969; credit producer Rick Rubin with pumping up the volume and letting Santana wail with impunity.
Guitaristic highlights include an organ-fueled “Batonga,” a slowly building “Yo Me Lo Merezco” (which carries all the emotional uplift of Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love”), the wah-wah inflected scorcher “Blue Skies,” the funky Afrobeat number “Paraisos Quemados” and the Turkish-Moroccan flavored “Los Invisibles.” Buika casts a spell on every track, her earthy vocal presence resonating, galvanizing Africa Speaks.
Africa Speaks: Africa Speaks; Batonga; Oye Este Mi Canto; Yo Me Lo Merezco; Blue Skies; Paraisos Quemados; Breaking Down The Door; Los Invisibles; Luna Hechicera; Bembele; Candombe Cumbele. (64:04)
Personnel: Carlos Santana, guitar, percussion, vocals; Benny Rietveld, bass; Cindy Blackman Santana, drums; Karl Perazzo, percussion; David K. Mathews, Salvador Santana (7), keyboards; Buika, Laura Mvula (5), Andy Vargas, vocals; Tommy Anthony (6), guitar; Ray Greene, vocals, trombone (7).