Live Review: Salvador Santana @ The Hotel Cafe

Live Review: Salvador Santana @ The Hotel Cafe


San Francisco native, Salvador Santana, comes from a deep history of music. In fact, it’s safe to say music is in his blood. Rhythm and soul in musical form come to him as natural as breathing does for many of us, and his constant quest to discover who he is as a musician and what he want to say, makes for some beautifully constructed songs. When he took the stage at the Hotel Cafe it was to a packed house, full of people from different walks of life, all there to take in this young up-and-comer. His rhythmic rapping and beautifully melodic melodies, which are amplified by the incredible vocalist Alex Nester, have an almost hypnotizing affect on his audience. His message of positivity and empowerment have a tendency to radiate from the stage, weaving between the bodies in the room until every single person is unconsciously moving to the beat, motivated by the music itself. He’s a songwriter that throws all of himself into his craft, with the purpose of making music that not only will be remembered, but has a story worth telling. When he performs any of the songs on his EP, “Rise Up,” you can’t help but get the feeling that they mean the world to him, each one of them possessing a story that he’s both excited to tell and humbled to be able to share.

He shines most in the emotionally engaging tracks like “Rise Up,” where Alex’s voice rises above the lush instrumentation, powerful and prominent while Salvador’s message is effortlessly conveyed. Their isn’t a moment of weakness when they perform this onstage, it’s a truly intense experience for both the performers and the listeners. Another stand out performance came during the deeply haunting “Into The Light,” where the story of uncertainty turns into an emotional cry to follow your heart until the very end. Every musician on the stage has the ability to height each performance, pouring themselves into every chord, every line, and every story to make for an engaging show that’s impossible to turn away from.

If you have the opportunity to experience Salvador Santana, I urge you to take it. His performances are grounding in authentic emotion and expertly crafted songs that stand on their own.

I had the opportunity to interview Salvador before he took the stage. Check out what he had to say about his biggest inspirations and his musical background below!


While you were growing, what kind of music did you listen to? And what were some of your favorite albums?

Growing up in the Bay area, at a young age, in a house where music was constant I think I just had a quest to understand an eclectic mix of music. All sorts of music came through my house. I studied drums, I picked that up around 2, then went into guitar. Shortly after guitar, piano was introduced. I think it was really important for my father that I understood rhythm and tempo before I could understand melodies and chords and harmonies. Having said that, I was exposed to so much music and around the scene in the Bay Area it was… such a melting pot with so much going on. One of the first albums… It’s hard to say, but that I can actually remember was Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane and Bob Marley. But the first that I ever purchased with my own money, I can remember going into Tower Records and getting Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album and Dr Dre, I thought I was a little rapper but I thought I was a little skater too. But for those that take the time to listen to my music, I think they’ll hear that I try to incorporate as much as I can of what I listened to growing up.

On “Rise Up” you have such a positive message. When you sat down to write that song, what was the inspiration behind it?

I had been wanting to write a song with that type of message for a long time. It pertains to self-empowerment, to preserver through adversity, get through whatever you’re going through. The inspiration came when my family and I took a trip to South Africa back in 2006. We had the opportunity to attend Desmond Tutu’s 75th birthday, we also got to meet Mr. Nelson Mandela. It was an incredible experience being in the presence of someone who epitomizes, and really is the definition of, everything that I mean with Rise Up. Being able to go through what he went through, being held prisoner for something like 27 years, becoming the president of South Africa. I came back here to the US and said “I want to write a song like that…” And when you listen to it, the first thing you hear other than Alex Nester, who’s singing on it.. is the piano line. Which is exactly how the song started. I was messing around with that melody and the song’s producer was like “Hey, what are you doing?” and he told me it was really good and we needed to record it. So we looped that, searched for some melodies, I went through some of my ideas and my experience in South Africa and the rest of it fell into place from there. It happen very naturally and organically. I think songs that come that way are some of the best ones. And I hope everyone that has a chance to listen to it really enjoys it.

A lot of your songs have to do with being positive, whether empowering positivity and as simple as having a good time. When you’re in your mode and you’re writing, what inspires you to pick up a pen and write a song?

It’s funny, the creative process for me is so spontaneous. Thank God for the technology we have now, I remember before iPhones I would get an idea for a song while I was driving, and not have anything to write it down with or remember it by. Now, I use the voice memos feature on the iPhone a lot, I can say lyrics into, sing into it, put an idea down… as long as I’m in a position to capture my lyrics and retain the creativity, I’ll follow through and see my ideas to the end. It’s very spontaneous, I just have to be in a good mindset to create, I can write it down and complete something.

I have created songs where I felt pressured to complete something, to have a deadline, there’s a time and a place to work in that environment. But for the creative process, there’s a lot to be said for letting it unfold naturally. I’ve been in the studio, let a beat loop over and over for three house, and drive myself nuts with it. I can’t even write one sentence. But if I walk away and get some coffee or take a walk, I’ll come back in and it will be like, “GOT IT!” Sometimes it’s about clearing your head and putting yourself in that creative space, telling yourself you’re ready to just let it all happen. As long as I’m in that state of mind, I’m all good.

When you’re up on stage performing what is the most important thing you want your audience to take away from your performance?

When I’m up there, it’s an honor and a pleasure to be of service, to positively distract people and convince everyone to celebrate with me through music. And what better way is there to do that than through music? My one main thing is I just want people to enjoy it as much as we did when we were creating it. Myself and the band, we’re all in this business to financially support ourselves, and that’s great validation, but if I can impact someone or people in a positive way then it’s a job well done. That’s really what I’m all about. I try to inspire people through the things that inspire me. So if I can touch some hearts and they walk away feeling good and inspired, that makes me feel good, it makes me feel like I’m doing my job. That makes me want to keep doing it.

In that same direction, throughout your life, what shows have you gone to where you’ve walked away really feeling that way? Inspired and empowered.

I’ve been so blessed to see so many different acts… I’ve seen Ziggy Marley, that was pretty cool. I got to see James Brown in 2006, about a year before he passed. That was cool, too. You hear a lot of hip hop influence in my music, and I don’t consider myself a rapper but more of a lyricist, but I really have a lot of respect for Hip Hop music. I’ve seen Mos Def, who was inspiring. I could go on and on, I’m just so grateful. Every concert I’ve been to I’ve felt inspired. There are just a handful that I maybe walked away disappointed or maybe it didn’t go right. I’m just so blessed to have seen so many different artists from different genres, that’s been inspiring to me on it’s own, and I just try to incorporate the best of the best. I try and say, oh I like that, let me see if I can put that in my sound and see how that works.

But to be honest, if I had to chose one, I’d have to choose Mr Herbie Hancock. I don’t get starstruck, being the son of Carlos Santana, I’ve had the privilege to be around many amazing people. But I definitely turn into a little giddy weirdo when I’m around Herbie, even though he’s known me since I was little. Just being an entrepreneur and a piano player, I mean, what hasn’t he done? Every time I see him, performing or hanging out, I’m just in such a happy place.

So, Rise Up has been out since this past summer. What’s up next for you?

I want to keep building off the momentum I was able to create off of this record with this band. Keep following the messages that come from the listeners. For me, I want to offer my services through music however I can. I want to challenge myself that much more in 2014. I want to explore, without putting the band on hold necessarily, but to explore other avenues. I like to challenge myself and see what I’m capable of. I definitely want to write more music in the studio, perform with my band, and incorporate the best of the best of what I’ve done so far and continue that into next year. It’s definitely exciting, I’m looking forward to it, nothing official on the horizon, but you can stay in touch on to see what I’m doing. I’ve got all the socials on there, so anything that comes up, that’s the best way to know!

Big thanks to Salvador for sitting down with me before his show! I had a blast and it was a huge pleasure talking to him. His EP, “Rise Up” is available now on iTunes!

Be sure to check out his official website and follow him on twitter @salvadorsantana to stay up-to-date on his music.


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