CORVALLIS — The masses know Santino Cadiz primarily as the frontman for Sar Shalom, one of the valley’s most rousing traveling parties. Theirs is a notoriously addictive groove, a splash of reggae dashed with hip-hop and other expertly rendered forms, driving bodies to dance floors, transcendence to minds.
But “Soteria,” Cadiz’s first solo album since 2005’s “Rise Up and Walk,” is a quieter, more ruminative affair, often the spare expression of man and guitar. It collects a lifetime of influences both musical and spiritual into a document the singer calls a snapshot of this moment in time.
This is Santino Cadiz, father/artist at 35, reflecting upon a journey that’s carried him from Lodi, Calif., to the muse-feeding beaches along Oregon’s coast, and finally into the cities of Eugene and Corvallis. Where the next chapter takes him, we shall see — and hear.
The word “Soteria” is of Greek origin; it means deliverance, or salvation. It represents not only Cadiz’s faith, but his love for languages, as well, their complexities and layers. For instance, Sar Shalom is Hebrew for “Prince of Peace,” but it’s much deeper than any simple translation. He’d found the name for his previous band in the Book of Psalms: “Selah,” or to pause and ponder, to contemplate the weight of words newly read.
“You chew on it, you digest it,” he explained. “You swill it around in your mind. Like the word ‘shalom’: It means ‘peace.’ But I looked further into it. Generally, when we talk about peace we talk about the absence of conflict. But ‘shalom’ literally means to be whole or complete. So it’s not just without warring or a conflict of ideals but to experience a level of completeness or wholeness, which we can all agree we should experience in some fashion. Although I don’t know if that’s truly attainable in this lifetime.
“Whether cryptically or not, I try to instill some of the things I’m passionate about spiritually. Some people are receptive of the ‘one love’ concept; some people don’t want to hear that at all. And that’s fine. My flavor isn’t everybody’s flavor, and I’m cool with that.”
Cadiz grew up surrounded by flavors. Although he didn’t actually pick up a guitar until he was 22 — the age at which he also discovered a knack for singing, thanks to karaoke nights — there was always one around the house, usually in the hands of his father, who coaxed flamenco adventures from its strings. A stereo was stocked with music from assorted golden ages: Motown R&B, Tower of Power, Stevie Wonder, the Doobie Brothers, the Eagles and Steel Pulse, the band that introduced the young man to reggae.
“I thought it was kind of weird,” he recalled of that first spin. “I didn’t understand the Jamaican slang they were using, but I knew it was very rhythmic, and I like things that are rhythmically driven. The rhythm is the heartbeat of the sound.”
When his older brother Marc (who photographed “Soteria’s” cover shot of the artist cloaked in shadow against the ocean) found an old guitar at a garage sale, Santino became determined to learn the instrument on his own. Well, not entirely: he did manage one half-hour lesson.
“At that point I didn’t know any chord formations,” Cadiz said, “so I was just putting my fingers in spots that sounded kind of cool. My instructor told me, which I didn’t understand at the time, that he didn’t want to — ”
Mess with what you were doing?
“Exactly. I was like, ‘Man, I want to learn guitar,’ so it didn’t really seem fair. But he taught me a blues scale, which I still use to this day.”
Honing his distinctive self-taught style, Cadiz at 23 formed his first band, Delta 9, a team of locals that blazed through Northern California and Nevada with a reggae-rock broth. They recorded one album, “So You Wanna Leave the Band?” (2000), an inside reference to the ensemble’s seemingly endless turnover.
Eventually, Cadiz felt a northward pull and, mid-millennium, made his way to the small coastal town of Langlois, Oregon, where his mother owned a ranch. “There was nothing going on,” he cracked. “I was basically singing to cows.” Hungry for a more human response, he joined his brother in Eugene in 2006. There he launched another group, Selah.
“I’d visited once before, in the early ’90s,” he said of the city. “It was right after the Grateful Dead disbanded and a lot of the fans were hanging out in that area. I liked its forward thinking; that’s what excited me about being there. Eugene’s got its own little scene going — they’re not really cognizant of what’s going on outside their world. When I lived there, my hair was long and I was barefoot, making daisy chains in a field. But that’s where I tried to regain the confidence to play live music again, as I did with Delta 9.”
Needless to say, his confidence returned. And in 2008 he relocated once again, this time to Corvallis. As in Eugene, he quickly immersed himself in local noise, assembling a seven-piece party army called Sar Shalom. They vibe through venues and large outdoor gatherings, where their music floats free. They’re now a staple at Northwest World Reggae Festival near Marcola, and the Mayday Festival at Prindel Creek Farm wouldn’t be the same without them.
Sar Shalom’s presence is evident on “Soteria”; most of its members offer musical support. Peter Argyres pumps a cool sax into “Heaven on Earth,” draping a mist over Cadiz’s acoustic flow. Aarron Wootton keeps sensitive foundations rock-steady on bass.
Grooveology’s Cameron Denning rolls solemn organ through “Forced Space” and “Soteria,” then cruises easy-mellow (Samuel Kincaid’s lead guitar purrs its approval) down “My Feet Upon the Rock,” a song Cadiz had initially intended as the title track to a proposed solo album a few years ago. Instead, he gave it to Sar Shalom and they recorded it for their eponymous 2009 full-length. Cadiz re-recorded it in tribute to his original plans. Similarly, “Rise Up and Walk” first appeared on his 2005 album of the same name. And it’s a fine way to end this trip, Cadiz on guitar, both soaked in reggae and unburdening their souls for everything they’re worth.
In addition to divine love, “Soteria” also explores notions of mortal love, lost and found, new and gone. The ink had barely dried on “Show Me Love Dear” before Cadiz set it down for posterity. The song emerged from lines of poetry composed in a Portland coffeehouse, then immediately driven back to Corvallis and set to music. “Forced Space” is older, the aftermath of a breakup that sonically ends with literal space: 23 seconds of silence, perfect for contemplation.
“For this particular album, I wanted to create a series of love songs,” Cadiz said. “I hadn’t really done anything like that. A lot of what I’ve written is political, or it deals with world situations. This is more personal.”
Yet there’s another power always at work.
“I’ve always felt that music is something that exists internally,” he explained. “It’s almost like you’ve become a conduit for something that’s always existed, and now you’ve got the chance to channel that. I feel like all the songs I create or come up with are borrowed, and I get the beautiful opportunity to call them my own.”
Q-and-A with Santino Cadiz
When you’re writing songs and have other projects as well, like Sar Shalom, how do you determine “This one’s for them” vs. “This one’s for me”?
With Sar Shalom, I know we’re going for something more danceable — there’s a certain style. But when it comes to my solo stuff, obviously I couldn’t try a lot of these songs with them. “This is too lovey-dovey.” “We’re going to lose our audience.”
“This is for me” is about taking that internal poetry and putting it out there. But, then, I’ve been able to take some softer tunes to them and they’ve helped me change the composition, helped me give it a little more fervor. People respond well to it.
I’ve been talking to Gabriel Surley, this cat I met at one of the FireWorks open mikes. We’re considering doing a kind-of West Coast tour in the early part of June to mid-July, starting down in San Diego and working our way up through Washington, maybe even head out east a bit.
That would be just you and your guitar?
Yes. And I’m really excited, because I’ve started jumping on the merchandising end. I just got some T-shirts made that I’ll be selling at the FireWorks show, plus some CDs. I also just got this new app on my phone. Square Up, this company out in San Francisco, gave me this device that plugs into my smartphone’s earphone jack and I can accept debit or credit, American Express, Visa or Discover.
I got the idea from Ryan Montbleau, a new up-and-comer in Eugene who just got his start opening for Martin Sexton. He was peddling his CDs outside Martin’s shows all over the state. Martin finally got a chance to hear him and said, “Why don’t you jump on board with me and do some touring?” The next thing you know, they’re in the studio.
He’s one of the reasons I wrote (“Soteria’s”) “I’ll Try.” It has a kind of bluegrass-esque country feel. I like challenging myself to approach different styles, step out of that comfort zone.
For instance, my girlfriend is a certified yoga instructor. Last month we flew down to San Francisco for a seven-day yoga conference. Just on a whim I decided, “Wouldn’t it be really cool if I had a yoga CD of all instrumental music?” So, within a week’s time I put together a 10-track CD and I was able to share it at the convention. Sure enough, a distributor picked it up and is going to put the music on some yoga DVDs.
What kind of music is it?
Lots of Hindi-influenced tunes and instrumentals. It’s music used for stretching, meditation and various types of yoga practices. My girlfriend loves it.
So I feel the sky’s the limit as far as expanding as an artist. I’m pretty excited to hear what I’ll be playing when I’m 50 or 60. Which I’m steadily approaching, so I’d better get on it. (laughs)
Do you read music?
I don’t, which I feel is a limitation. If I did have that knowledge, it would be fun to put together a symphonic orchestra. It’s something I hope to learn at some point. But I think the beauty in not knowing is that music is able to go in the direction it does.
And like with anything, you have dry periods. I’m always searching for something to be inspired by.
You’ve lived on the coast. If “Soteria’s” cover art is any indication, you’re still drawn there.
Yes. My mother owns a ranch near the Bandon area, and this photo was taken on those beaches. I love the ocean. That whole expansiveness of water puts into perspective how fleeting life can be and how miniscule we are in the grand scheme of creation. It centers me: “I’m a human just like you. I’m just a speck, a grain of sand.” The ocean is very therapeutic for me.