By Tobin Jones
When Annie Rodriguez approached her friend Jorge Santana about commissioning a mural in his honor, she never could have predicted that it would be a eulogy.
But after Jorge, frontman of the seminal San Francisco Latin rock band Malo, and younger sibling to the legendary musician Carlos Santana, passed away from a heart attack last May, in the midst of the painting process, the project took on an even deeper significance for Rodriguez.
“Jorge was a great friend of mine, and I want to make sure that his excitement about the mural came to fruition,” she said.
Rodriguez, an educator and photographer who helps run the organization Latin Rock Inc, first heard about the piece, La Familia Santana, as it was proposed to her and other neighborhood artists and activists by musician Michael Carabello. Carabello, who played congas with the Carlos Santana band from 1968 to 1971, wanted to commission a mural depicting Carlos, the late storied local music promoter Bill Graham, and himself, somewhere in the Mission District.
This vision never came to fruition, but it inspired Rodriguez to reach out to Jorge Santana and pitch him the idea of a mural in his honor. Jorge was interested, but wanted the piece to be a tribute not just to him, but the entire Santana family, including Carlos, their parents José and Josefina, and Carlos’s son Salvador, a well known keyboardist in his own right.
“Jorge said, ‘I want my brother Carlos on this mural, I want myself in the middle, I want my mom and dad there, and I want my nephew Salvador,” said Lisa Brewer, a neighborhood gallery owner and co-founder of the nonprofit group Mission Arts 415, which commissions murals in the area. “And he picked out the color jackets they wore, the jewelry, the guitars they were playing — he picked out every detail of that mural’s design.”
Rodriguez and Santana spent almost three years raising funds, securing the wall at the 24th Street BART plaza, and planning the piece. They were assisted by Brewer and her partner and co-director Randolph Bowles, as well as Malo guitarist Dr. Bernardo D. Gonzalez, who now runs a dental practice in the Mission. To head the physical painting process, they recruited the well-known underground cartoonist Mark Bode.
A Family’s Journey
Both Jorge and his older brother Carlos were born in Autlán de Navarro, in the western Mexican state of Jalisco. At a young age, the family moved to Tijuana, where Carlos and their father Jose earned money playing mariachi music on the streets and in the strip joints which dotted Avenida Revolución, the city’s main tourist drag. In the early 1960s, they moved north to San Francisco, settling in the Mission District and attending Mission High School.
After finishing classes for the day, Carlos and Jorge would often head to the 24th Street BART plaza, where they would busk with friends.
Both would find success in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with Carlos rocketing to mega stardom with hits such as “Black Magic Woman,” and a raucous, psychedelic rock rendition of Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va.” The Santana band’s performance of “Soul Sacrifice” at the 1968 Woodstock Festival would become one of the event’s most iconic.
Jorge fronted the band Malo, best known for their 1972 hit “Suavecito,” which some have called the Chicano national anthem. While Jorge never reached the same heights of fame as his big brother, Malo is regarded as one of the most important bands of Latin rock genre.
On April 11, the mural team gathered at the 24th Street BART station to bless the nearly completed project. As the Danza Xitlalli troupe and a duo of drummers performed, Rodriguez was unable to contain her emotion.
“The tears rolled down,” she said. “I felt that Jorge was present.”
For Rodriguez, despite the other figures depicted in La Familia Santana, the mural is, at its heart, a tribute to her friend.
“We’re honoring Jorge Santana. We love Carlos, we love Salvador, we love his parents, but this is really in honor of Jorge Santana,” she said.