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At its heart, Santana was always a showcase for the guitar work of its Mexican-American namesake, who founded the group in 1966 as the Carlos Santana Blues Band. After a breakout performance at Woodstock that came weeks before their self-titled debut album hit the shelves, Santana was off and running, releasing a string of records through the late ‘60s and ‘70s that pioneered a fusion of Latin music and blues-based rock, with the young guitarist providing the glue. Santana’s second album, 1970’s Abraxas, expanded the formula with instantly catchy, rhythmically complex compositions that were perfect for radio, even if radio listeners didn’t realize it yet. While “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va” were the hits, the centerpiece of the record was the instrumental “Samba Pa Ti,” a sensual display of guitar virtuosity that danced into jazz territory with its repeated lead line and excursions into improvisation. The song marked Carlos Santana’s lone solo writing credit on the record, and became a staple in the band’s live shows for years to come.
Watch this exclusive clip of Santana performing “Samba Pa Ti” for a rapturous crowd at the Olympia Theatre in Paris on Dec. 7, 1976. And read our recent essay on Carlos Santana and the overlooked legacy of social justice in ‘70s soul music.