After the success of the improvisational-fueled tunes on their debut album, Santana, Carlos Santana and the band moved in a decidedly more song-driven direction on their followup, Abraxas.
Without a doubt the first album had some interesting instrumental passages. And, driven by the impetus of its appearance in the film, Woodstock, “Soul Sacrifice” remained a crowd pleaser. But it wasn’t until the lyrical “Samba Pa Ti” (literally, “Samba for You”) that Santana achieved his first truly memorable instrumental tune. In fact, the song charted in the Top 30 in the U.K.
Written by Carlos one night while he was sitting outside his apartment, Samba Pa Ti is essentially a two-part song, separated by a short bridge. The first section features a beautiful guitar melody over a simple chord progression, played by Gregg Rolie on the Hammond B3 organ. Its tempo is that of a slow Samba. Though this part is technically in the key of G major, the melody and use of numerous minor chords lends it a haunting air.
After the figure is played twice, the band crescendos into a bridge which accentuates the G major flavor. Then they speed up into a mid-tempo Samba rhythm, as Carlos builds a hook-laden solo based on blues riffs, Latin-flavored trills, and the beautiful bell-like tone (especially in the high register) of his guitar through a Fender Twin Reverb tube amplifier. (In order to achieve the unique tone of the song, Carlos leaves a Wah Wah pedal set somewhere in the middle of its range.)
Like it’s successor, the luminous “Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile)”, Samba Pa Ti showcases the melodic genius of Carlos Santana. Throughout the fairly structured first part and bridge, he plays a set melody, simply adding little touches for effect. During the final part, however, he devolves into a true solo, demonstrating his flair for hooky riffs, as well as a nod to the influence of Gabor Szabo.
Samba Pa Ti Chords
G – Bm – Em – Am
G – Bm – Em – Am7
D – Am – D – D
Am – Bm – Am – D – D
G – Bm (Bbm) – Am – D
G – Am
(repeat to fade)