John Santos, The John Santos Sextet, Dr. John Calloway, Marco Diaz, Saul Sierra, David Flores, Melecio Magdaluyo, Aida Salazar, Avelina Salazar Santos, Joao Salazar Santos
"SANTOS - Skin to Skin" Premieres at SXSW
Acclaimed Afro-Latin musician John Santos is the heart and soul within Kathryn Golden's directorial debut SANTOS - Skin to Skin, a 75-minute feature doc that recently had its world premiere at SXSW. Santos, a seven-time Grammy nominee and noted community activist, infuses Skin to Skin with an infectious spirit that fully comes to life anytime the music begins to vibe. That happens quite often in Skin go Skin, the John Santos Sextet so remarkable that I'm almost embarrassed to admit I'd not heard of them prior to sitting down with this engaging, immensely entertaining documentary.
SANTOS - Skin to Skin is an enjoyable experience from beginning to end. It's the kind of doc best experienced with the volume turned up and the heart wide open. Santos links the rhythms of his ancestors to contemporary struggles against urban gentrification, social inequity, and racial injustice. At the same time that he's creating memorable rhythms, he's peeling back the legacy of colonialism and navigating the politics of culture.
Of mixed Puerto Rican and Cape Verdean heritage, Santos is a musical storyteller who seems as comfortable discussing musical history as he is playing in front of an audience. His percussion classes are legendary and Santos is universally recognized as one of the planet's foremost exponents of Afro-Latin music. Golden and her team follow Santas from rehearsals in his Oakland, California garage studio to performances in a wide variety of settings including local community centers, gigs with congueros in the barrios of Puerto Rico, and concert stages nationwide. The film has a lot to say and a lot to play and Santos is often joined by a host of international jazz musicians including Eddie Palmieri, Raul Rekow, Orestes Vilato (of Santana), Omar Sosa, Rico Pabon, Ernesto Oviedo, and Jerry Medina among others.
In terms of weaving social justice into its musical tapestry, Skin to Skin brings to mind current Oscar nominee Summer of Soul. While the music is different and the cultural references at another place along the spectrum, Skin to Skin is as meaningful as it is entertaining.
Just getting started on its festival journey, SANTOS - Skin to Skin is a film you'll want to check out if it arrives at a fest near you and most certainly once it arrives in distribution. With messages that need to be heard and music that won't be forgotten, SANTOS - Skin to Skin is one of 2022's most memorable music docs.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic