Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Interview Transcript: Jorge Santana of Malo

Forty years ago, Jorge Santana joined a group of San Francisco teens that would help define the Latin rock genre.
Malo, the Latin rock band featuring Carlos Santana's younger brother, would go on to record one hit single, the lowrider classic "Suavecito," and achieve modest success with four albums recorded between 1970 and 1973, when the band was signed to Warner Bros. Records.
Malo celebrates its 40th anniversary with a concert Saturday at the Fox Theater in Salinas.
Jorge Santana, the band's guitarist, talked to “The Beat ” about the early years with the band and the thrill of reuniting with his high school friends. Transcript below, with more after the jump.

Q: How are you doing?
A: I'm enjoying finally in the Bay Area sunny weather here, because it's just been overcast constantly. I'm doing very well, thank you.

Q: You got a pretty big show lined up in this area, celebrating the 40th anniversary. What's the anniversary marking? Is it the anniversary of Malo?
A: It is of Malo, and it's history, back when Malo became popular. It's definitely not mine (laughs).

Q: How old are you now?
A: I am 59.

Q: Talk about the anniversary. Give me some of your reflections on the bands early years, the formation, and can you take us back to when the band first started and you and Arcelio first hooked up.
A: I was still in high school, at San Francisco Mission High. One of my friends at Mission High School also played guitar, and we each had our own bands. Carlos Gomez was his name. He was the guitar for the band The Malibus, which was led by Richard Bean and Arcelio Garcia. Carlos Gomez approached me to see if I wanted to join The Malibus. So I went in for an audition and I guess I made it because I never left after that.
Soon after I joined the band, it changed from the Malibus, which was a R&B band, to Malo. And Malo was taken to the studio, and soon after we recorded four albums for Warer Brothers.
The first album included “Nena” and of course, “Suavecito,” which I'm very proud to be part of. And Malo recorded its last album in, I think, in 1973. Within about a three year period, we recorded four albums for Warner Brothers.
When I look back to it, young as I was, it was quite an undertaking, and I know I wasn't ready for the impact, both professionally and also with the popularity Malo got. With the fame and with the large band that Malo was composed of, which was pretty large for those days. It was difficult sustaining a band of that magnitude...
(Malo) left, in my opinion, a very strong following and a great musical legacy, and that stopped in 1973. However, thereafter, about the mid-80s, Arcelio regrouped again and has been working the band ever since.

Q: When did you get back involved? Can you talk about your relationship with the band members after you left the band in 1973, and how you guys grew up and evolved as musicians before getting back together?
A: The relationship between the musicians, there were really three I was close with , and it turned out to be the original partners of Malo. It was Arcelio Garcia, the vocalist/writer, It was Pablo Theus (sic), and then it was myself. The rest of the musicians, I remember them well, but the nucleus and the strength of the band, the backbone, was the three of us. And seriously, it happened quite fast, those three years. And then after the band broke up, really we all did not keep in touch. Everybody went their own way. However, about a year after Malo broke up, I went and did a series of high profile shows with Fania All-Stars.
After Fania All-Stars, I went out and did two solo albums. That was late-70s, and then by the mid-80s, Arcelio regrouped with Malo, and I started seeing Malo and hanging out with Malo, I would say about the late-90s. So I've been playing with Malo for a good 10 years. And the way it turned out to be was Malo featuring Jorge Santana.

Q: During this past 10 years, reconnecting with the band, with your audience, what are maybe some of the memories you've taken away? Or some of the things you've rediscovered about the bands following? Or its legacy, in general, the music, the genre of Latin rock you guys helped to establish.
A: My answer to that is not regretting, but only retrospecting. Because... we don't know what it would have been had I continuously played music (with Malo). But having those periods of not playing for the public with Malo, what I've really learned more than anything and appreciate sincerely is not that we forget what an impact the contribution that we made as the band, but now performing that music, and with Malo, for the audience, my god. They were there from the beginning, were just waiting for us when we were apart, and now they show up for all the shows. Simply, I'm grateful that the fans are still there supporting us.
In my place, I have done quite of bit of recording and performance, and I'm not one to remind myself of all my highlights and fame and what have you. And that's what I mean. When you go on stage as we go, one thing that comes to mind for, a long answer to your question, is how honored we should really feel about people taking time to come and see us. For us, it's really what we have started with back since recording the album and “Suavecito.” It's the fans that have really impressed us and more than anything, we're grateful for them supporting us.

Q: Talk to me about the connection you guys have with low rider culture, and Chicano culture, and how you guys being affiliated in that culture has maybe kept you guys relevant through the years and kept your fans loyal to you through the years.
A: The only association would have to be music, through “Suavecito,” and through the songs of Malo. For the low rider culture, I personally am not that active because of my lifestyle, my social lifestyle. However, for one, I do wish Malo and the band performed closer to the events that Chicano producers put together, and two, that Malo would perform on those events that lowriders produce. I know we do some, but the only time we're able to express our Chicano association is when we're on stage. And to be honest with you, I'm not really aware whose really booking the events to make them be more Chicano or more low rider. But I wish we did more of those events.

Q: Going back to the bands early years, during the three years run you guys had, did you ever go on tour with your brother or open for him with Malo?
A: It was only one event that we did that I recall. It was old and a forgettable night. It was probably about 1971, we played a bill (together). The bill was Journey, Malo and Santana. And that was the only event that I remember doing. We didn't stay at the event long because as soon as we got off the stage for performing, we went straight to the airport for another performance that same evening at the Palladium in Los Angeles.
And that's to my knowledge, the only event we did with Carlos.
What I do miss a lot is the family events we used to do, associated with Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Association. I miss those events and I remember them really, really well. I wish we would do more.

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