Staying true to who you are is important in life, and in the world of music, there is no other way. Virtuoso Drummer Cindy Blackman Santana has known who she was for a long time, and it certainly shows each time she gets behind the kit. Working in areas ranging from Jazz to Rock-n-Roll, she has done it all over the three plus decades of performing with renowned Jazz musicians as well as the likes of rockstars such as Lenny Kravitz.
Now looking to broaden her horizons and hone her skills as a vocalist, she recently released the colorful new single “Fun Party Splash” back in August with plans for a full-length album in the near future. Excited for the new challenge, Blackman Santana sat down to talk her extensive experience as a performer, life rocking with Lenny Kravitz, working with her husband Carlos Santana, staying healthy, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in music essentially your entire life. You have worked in Jazz, Rock-n-Roll, and have built an amazing career as a drummer. You have worked in other genres. I first wanted to ask you, what has this wild ride been like for you?
Cindy Blackman Santana – It has been incredible because I have been really blessed to be able to do what I love with playing music and with the different people that I have been able to play with. I’ve gotten really a wonderful dose of a lot of variation in music and a lot of traveling. The whole combination of everything that has come about has been a great blessing.
CrypticRock.com – That is really great to hear. As you mentioned, you have built quite a resume in your years touring and recording as well as worked with a great group of people through the years. You have toured and recorded with a long list of artists as well as a broad range of personalities. From this vast experience that you have had in a broad range of genres, as well as a broad range of personalities, what have you learned from it all?
Cindy Blackman Santana – Goodness, there is so much that I have learned about music, about people, and about myself. I don’t even know where to start. With music, one of the earliest lessons that I learned from Jackie Mclean, when I played many years ago with his band, he said, “Treat my band as if it were your band and play the way you’d play with your band with me and my band.” That set a really incredible president for me, because when I play somebody’s music, when I play with any project, I ingest the music as if I wrote it. I put 1,000 percent of myself into it in the same way that I would if it was my own project. It doesn’t matter if I play a part or just a situation where you’re able to explore with improvisation, or whether it is group based music. Whatever the situation is, if I’m playing the beat, I play the beat like there’s no tomorrow. I give everything I got. If I’m exploring, then I explore.
That was really one of the greatest things I have learned that I carry with me throughout my entire career of playing. It is a beautiful thing to play with different people and to see where each person and group likes to go. That is something that I relate to in life as well, because every situation is different, you can’t treat every situation the same way. If you hang out with your friend from New York today and your friend from Alaska tomorrow, they may have 2 totally different head spaces. We might not get into the exact same thing, and that is ok because they are totally different people. That is another thing I learned about not only playing in musical situations, but also in life.
About myself, I’ve learned to be adaptable to the situation in order to make it work, but yet remain me and still be who I am, to still be Cindy, still be the drummer that I want to be. That’s a really important task that also is a concept, for me anyway, that I can translate into my everyday living, because again, I can be in this situation or that situation with different people, but I still have to be true to myself.
CrypticRock.com – Those are very fascinating and important lessons life lessons to learn. As you said, those are things that you can apply to everyday life. You have been very busy through the years touring, and among those times that you were touring and recording, you spent a great deal of time with Lenny Kravitz and his band. You toured through the years with them, you were also in the studio. What was that experience with Lenny and his band like?
Cindy Blackman Santana – We had a lot of playing time together, we logged in a lot of hours. We played for hours together a day, did multiple tours, and when we would do concert tours, we do soundcheck for 2 or 3 hours, then we would play 2 two-hour concerts. We would get a lot of playing together. It was really incredible to be a part of the growth of a unit like that and it became so tight that if you wanted to put some dental floss in between the beats you could do it, but you might have to tug a little bit (laughs). That was really a great experience. It was fun to also play for a massive amount of people. I’ve never done that before joining Lenny. The first time I did it, it was very daunting.
We played this festival, I think there were 70,000 plus people at the concert that day. It was an outside concert, so most people have on t-shirts and tanktops and a lot of guys had their shirts off, so you just saw their arms waving in the air because they were doing the wave. I had to adjust, because physically looking at it, my equilibrium was thrown off. It was really weird. The energy that you got back from those people was incredible. The fact that we were able to give them energy and feed them, make them feel good, was really amazing. That band is a Groove-based band, which was wonderful. To be responsible for making that many people feel good, dance, and want more, was amazing. All together, I played with Lenny for about 15 years. It was really incredible.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly sounds like it was. Anyone who saw you in your time drumming for Lenny Kravitz, know you really were a focal point behind the drumkit, you really were a presence.
Cindy Blackman Santana – Thank you. Again, it was really amazing to be accepted by the people, by the fans, on the journey the band was on. Again, the energy you receive from that is really incredible and very inspiring. To be able to give that energy back to the people is really a blessing. Especially when your goal, a part of creating great music, is to make them feel good. For me and most of my friends, for my husband, our goals is to make great music, but you want to make them feel good. You want them to feel their heart’s center. From my perspective, when you make somebody feel their heart’s center, when you help, it’s not twisting their arm, but when you help them own their heart’s center, they start to feel love inside.
When everyone starts to beam love inside, it’s only natural and second nature that you beam it outside because it exudes out of you. That means that you transport that to your immediate surroundings. Then, that gets transported even further. Once we start doing that, the whole vibration changes and everyone starts to vibe on a higher level, a higher rate. Once we keep doing that, and again, this is something we need to focus on in these times too, it raises the vibration of everyone. That is the way to stop the negativity that we are seeing today.
CrypticRock.com – That is a wonderful outlook and a good perspective for people to follow. Speaking of feeling good, you recently released a new single which is actually a pretty feel-good song from “Fun Party Splash.” It is very uplifting and energetic. What inspired that track?
Cindy Blackman Santana – It is a feel good song and it’s meant to be that. I was in the studio with my producer and he said, “How do you feel?” I said, “Good.” Then he said, “How do you want to make people feel?” I said, “Good.” He said, “What words come to your mind when you think of just having fun?” The first 3 words that came to my mind were “Fun Party Splash,” and he said, “Ok, write that.” We started writing and that’s what came out. It was exactly that, I’m so glad you picked up on that. I’m hopeful that other people will pick up on that too.
That song is purely meant to just have fun, not be irresponsible, but take the weight off your shoulders. It is to lift any kind of negative veil, even if only for a moment, so you can see light, joy, fun, and emit and transfer that to other people. That’s exactly what that song is meant for. That is my hope in terms of how people receive it and how it makes them feel.
CrypticRock.com – Well, it certainly gives off that vibration. It included Carlos Santana on the guitar on the track. Now, most people know your signature work as a drummer, but you do actually have a very nice singing voice. Is singing something you have had a passion for through the years?
Cindy Blackman Santana – I thank you for that. Firstly, yes, Carlos sounds amazing on it. Regarding my singing, that is actually only the second song I ever sang, this is brand new. This is a real major voyage. The very first song I ever sang recently was back in July on the Santana/Isley Brothers’ song called “I Remember,” which is a ballad. I wrote and sang on that record. That was the very first song I sang. “Fun Party Splash” is the second song that I sang and recorded. We have 6-7 more vocal songs that are going to be on the record, the complete record when it comes out. This is a brand new venture, a new terrain, a new territory, a whole new realm that I am exploring.
CrypticRock.com – That is really cool. It has to be exciting at this point of your career to have something new and fresh like that.
Cindy Blackman Santana – It is, yes. It’s really different and it is also fun. It’s work too because I have to practice singing. I know how to practice and warm up the drums, but I have no idea what to do with singing. My sister, who is a vocalist, recommended a vocal teacher for me who happens to be a friend of ours. Now I have a vocal coach, she is teaching me different techniques and helping me out a lot with the breathing, the voice, how not to hurt myself, and how not to strain. There are things you need to know to protect your organic voice.
I know how to protect myself now as a drummer. I know to practice, I know how to do things, I’m very comfortable with that. Learning this, the new paradigm for me is really cool because I consider myself to be a perpetual student of life. I always look to learn something. To study, and to learn this, is just inspiring for me.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly sounds like it and it will be exciting to see where it goes. You mentioned that there are actually 6 or 7 more vocal tracks. That said, a record will soon follow. What stylistic direction are you going go with this record? It is certainly compelling since you have an eclectic background with Jazz and Rock-n-Roll.
Cindy Blackman Santana – They are already recorded. Most of the songs are mastered and ready to go. We just need to finish a couple of more things with some other tracks that are on the record and then they will be completed. The vocal stuff has already been finished. In terms of the content of the record, it is a record that contains a lot of the stuff that I love. People might misconstrue that as being eclectic or being misguided or undirected, but that’s not it. I didn’t want to do a record with just vocals, because there is more to me than just that. I’m a drummer who likes to play, explore, and solo. I’m a jazz musician so there’s a lot of stuff that I like to cover. This record entails elements of all those things.
Carlos is playing on almost all of the vocal tracks, but he is also playing on the instrumentals as well. Vernon Reed is on it too. There are other people who are on the record too, so it has punch, whether they are instrumentals or whether they are vocals. It’s got a lot of dynamic range. I’m really proud of what we are putting together and where this thing is going. I hope that people see it for what it is – it’s an offering of things that I love. It’s not that I’m confused, it’s not that I don’t know where I want to go, I just love a lot of things. So instead of giving a bouquet of just red roses, I’m giving a bouquet of a bunch of different colors, a bunch of different textures of flowers, and that’s what this record is.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent, and that honestly makes the best music. It is personal and from the heart, you are giving people a piece of yourself. It will be exciting to see when the record does come out. Now, as we have spoken about, you are very busy. You are on tour with Santana and the schedule is pretty packed through 2018. Being a touring musician, having spent a lot of years on the road, how do you manage your time away from home? Also, how do you keep yourself healthy?
Cindy Blackman Santana – I don’t drink alcohol. Also, I don’t smoke anything. I live in as clean of a way as possible in terms of what I ingest. I eat as cleanly as possible. I carry a vitamix blender so I do a lot of blended foods. I drink a lot of water. There are also certain supplements that I take. I find quiet times and I try to get as much rest as possible. I’m not a partier, I’m not gonna be hanging out all hours of the night. It is not that I never hung out, I have done it before, but as a rule, I don’t do that. I like to go back to my room, chill out, relax, find my center, and make sure that I’m well rested physically, mentally, and spiritually.
I take care of myself. I don’t get involved in extraneous things that go on that a lot of people get involved with and I’ve never have. I’ve never done that. My beginnings, touring before Lenny, I never did that. During Lenny I never did, and after Lenny I never did that. It is just not my personality. I take care of myself.
CrypticRock.com – Well that is a good thing and it certainly helps because a tour schedule can be very rigorous as well as exhausting.
Cindy Blackman Santana – Yes, it can. You give a lot, especially when you’re coming from the heart. You give a lot to people, you give a lot of energy, and that’s a good thing. That said, you also have to remember our organic bodies need replenishment and they need to be fed proper fuel. I don’t understand how somebody can rationalize that if they are driving a Ferrari, you have to give it high octane fuel, the best that you can find, gonna give it premium gas. Yet, they eat McDonalds, Burger King, or Kentucky Fried Chicken as a staple. That’s their diet and I don’t understand that, it’s improper fuel. That’s not fuel that’s going to yield your highest physical, mental, or spiritual output.
I enjoy my food and I enjoy good tasting food, but I look at food as fuel. I’m not saying I don’t have a dessert or anything because I do, I like sweets, but I always balance myself. It’s just finding the balance to keep yourself healthy and feed yourself with proper fuel that will allow you to operate mentally, physically, and spiritually on a level that you want to. For me, I want to operate on the highest level possible. Everything I eat/ingest, whether it is a liquid, food, or thoughts, is on as high a level I can possibly make it. I have my fun too, but like I said, I make sure that I balance myself.
CrypticRock.com – Balance is essential. My last question is pertaining to film because at CrypticRock we cover all sorts of music but we also cover movies, particularly Horror and Science Fiction. If you are fan of either genre, do you have any favorites?
Cindy Blackman Santana – I love Science Fiction. I am a Science Fiction nut! I love anything having to do with Sci-Fi and futuristic movies. First of all, I think that there is a lot of information given in those movies, but also movies that really stir the imagination. They open your brain up and help you imagine things that are just bigger than life, or at least appear to be. I love creative thinking and creativity. Sci-Fi movies are among my favorite movies ever. I always loved Star Trek, I am certainly a Treky. I like the older TV shows like The Twilight Zone. Those things are always intriguing to me.
I also love movies like Wonder Woman, it is very interesting to me. I enjoyed the original series Planet of The Apes, and the new ones. Also, 2001 A Space Odyssey and any movie like that. I also like Drama and Comedies. One of my favorite movies is Wag the Dog (1997). I like Bringing Down the House (2003), that’s really funny. I love movies in general, but Sci-Fi, they are probably my favorite movies. I like The X Files a lot, which is a TV show, not a movie, but they made a movie of it. Also, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), all those kind of movies I love.