I remember it like it was yesterday.
I was in college when Sublime suddenly stormed onto the scene.
They had been around a while, but no one knew it.
Then came Santeria.
No one knew the Santeria lyrics meaning or anything about Sublime, but suddenly everyone had their latest album.
And then the two previous albums, too.
It seemed from one day to the next, everywhere you went you would hear Sublime. Yet no one ever seemed to wonder what they were singing about.
Well, we’re going to find out today. Keep reading to learn exactly what the song Santeria is about.
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Santeria Lyrics And Meaning
Sublime released their hit song Santeria on January 7, 1997. It was the second song on the band’s third and final studio album.
Arguably one of Sublime’s most recognised tracks, Santeria was originally called Lincoln Highway Dub, when it was just an instrumental on their 1994 album Robbin’ the Hood.
Another fun fact is that the word ‘Santeria’ appears just once in the lyrics, and that’s in the opening line of the song.
Lead singer and guitarist Bradley Nowell wrote the song lyrics. Sadly, Nowell never saw the success of his work with Santeria, because he tragically passed away due to a drug overdose while on tour with Sublime in San Francisco, before the band had even released the song.
The song peaked at 43 in the US Billboard Hot 100 Airplay and also hit number 3 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.
Due to Nowell’s passing, he is not featured in the Santeria music video, since it was filmed after his death. However, in the music video, there is a touching tribute to the band’s former frontman with the inclusion of Nowell’s dog, Lou Dog.
Having Lou Dog in the video was not necessarily something everyone loved, particularly actor Tom Lister Jr, who was bitten by the Dalmatian when appearing in the video.
The music video has a western theme and was directed by American video and film director McG, who has since gone on to produce and direct some blockbuster films such as Terminator Salvation and Charlie’s Angels.
The song was popular among other music artists, with covers performed by the likes of Jack & Jack, Haley Reinhart, and AVAIL. Arguably the most famous cover was performed by Post Malone back in 2018, while he was on tour in Brisbane.
I don’t practice Santeria, I ain’t got no crystal ball
Well, I had a million dollars, but I’d, I’d spend it all
If I could find that heina and that Sancho that she’s found
Well, I’d pop a cap in Sancho and I’d slap her down
What I really wanna know, ah, baby, mmm
What I really want to say, I can’t define
Well, it’s love that I need, oh
My soul will have to
Wait ’til I get back, find a heina of my own
Daddy’s gonna love one and all
I feel the break, feel the break, feel the break, and I got’ live it up
Oh, yeah, ah-huh, well, I swear that I
What I really wanna know, ah, baby
What I really want to say, I can’t define
That love, make it go
My soul will have to
Mmm, what I really wanna say, ah, baby
What I really wanna say is, “I’ve got mine
And I’ll make it, oh yes, I’m comin’ up”
Tell Sanchito that
If he knows what is good for him, he best go run and hide
Daddy’s got a new .45
And I won’t think twice to stick that barrel straight down Sancho’s throat
Believe me when I say that I got something for his punk ass
What I really wanna know, my baby
Ooh, what I really wanna say is, “There’s just one”
Way back, and I’ll make it, oh yeah I’m coming up
My soul will have to wait yeah
Santeria is actually a religious practice originating from Cuba, involving contact with the spirit world and making sacrifices for success in personal relationships. The lyrics don’t directly reference the religion itself, but the relationship aspect of the religion fits in with the song.
With the opening lyric being “I don’t practice Santeria,” Nowell may have been saying that he isn’t into spirituality and isn’t willing to make the relevant sacrifices (or practice the religion needed) to bring back the woman he lost to another man.
One word in the lyrics that brings up a lot of questions is ‘heina”. This word is used to refer to a man’s girlfriend or wife. It is believed to have evolved from the Spanish word ‘reina’, which translates to ‘queen’.
Some believe the word ‘heina’ is meant to be ‘hiena’, which is Spanish for ‘hyena’. These different interpretations among fans can result in a completely different outlook on the song.
One refers to the woman he has lost in a positive light, saying he no longer has his queen, the very best woman he could ever get. Hyena has a more negative look, referring to the woman as a vicious wild animal and suggesting he doesn’t think fondly of her anymore.
It is probably a combination of both, since the lyrics later allude to hitting her: “Well, I’d pop a cap in Sancho and I’d slap her down,” which suggests he is still hurt by her actions and has anger towards her.
This brings us to another instance of Spanish slang in the song. The word ‘Sancho’ is used several times in the song. In the Chicano culture, a ‘Sancho’ is a man who steals another man’s girlfriend.
Nowell’s use of Spanish slang in the song lyrics has people debating what he truly means. I believe this was a clever way for Nowell to allow people to interpret it the way they believe, or to highlight that everything isn’t always the way it seems. Maybe if he were still with us today, we would have a clearer understanding of what he was trying to portray with these words.
That said, we do have a good idea what the song as a whole is about. At its core, Santeria is a song about unrequited love and jealousy. The narrator is in love with a woman, but she has chosen to be with another man.
The lyrics express the narrator’s longing for her and his willingness to do anything, even violent acts, to be with her. The song portrays the unstable psychological state of the narrator, blending emotions of anger, resentment, and self-awareness. This illustrates the complexity of human emotions in situations of infidelity.
Another key image in the song is the reference to “a million dollars.” This could be interpreted as a metaphor for the value the protagonist places on his lost love, implying that he would give anything to have her back in his life.
Santeria Lyrics Meaning: Final Thoughts
Sublime was a 90s success story. They came out of nowhere (not really, but that’s how it seemed to most of us), stuck around a year or two, then disappeared again. I know they’re still around in some form (that form being Sublime With Rome), but have not heard anything from them since the 90s.
Santeria was their biggest hit song and the one that launched them. I remember always wondering what the Santeria lyrics meaning as, but no one else ever seemed to question it. I’m glad I am now able to share what I think the song means.