Sublime – “Santeria” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Brendan Briggs

Brendan is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. In 2022, he released his first album "Dive" under the name "Arctotherium".

“Santeria” is a twisted slice-of-life song. It describes the psychological state of a man as he contemplates murdering the man his woman replaced him with. The lyrics focus on the rage, resentment, and disturbing self-awareness the narrator feels leading up to the murder.

When it comes to Santeria’s music, the work was already done. The guitar riff, chord progression, and bassline were taken from an earlier Sublime track called “Lincoln Highway Dub.” Lyrically, the track is inspired by the lingo of Chicano culture, wherein a “Sancho” is a man who steals someone’s woman, and “Heina” is a term for one’s girlfriend.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these darkly fascinating lyrics to reveal their hidden meaning. We’ll also analyze the music video, songwriting origins, and the themes that make this song such an instant classic. Without further ado, let’s dive in!

“Santeria” Lyrics Meaning

The opening line of the song is what gives the track its name. The narrator begins by admitting he can’t practice “Santeria,” an Afro-Cuban religion that arose when Roman Catholicism and traditional West African religions mixed. The narrator mentions a “crystal ball” because Santeria sometimes involves manipulating fate, which he feels powerless to do.

What would the narrator do with this power if he had it? He tells us he would “find that Heina and that Sancho that she’s found.” His intention when he does find this couple is violence. The narrator’s fantasy is to “pop a cap in Sancho” (shoot him) and slap Heina down.

Next, the lyrics break from the violent fantasizing and focus on the confusion of the narrator. He “can’t define” what it is that really drives him. The closest he can get is linking his rage to the “love that I [the narrator]” needs, but he stops reflecting before getting any further.

Abruptly, the lyrics shift back to the narrator’s fantasy. As a form of revenge toward Heina, the narrator promises to “love one and all,” which means to get active with as many other women as possible. Out of resentment, he plans to “live it up” in this way.

After another chorus, the second verse begins. The narrator has returned to violence instead of rebounding. He’s finally decided on what he really wants to say. All that comes out is a threat toward Sancho and a warning to “go run and hide.”

If the narrator finds Sancho, his fate is sealed. Having acquired a “new .45” (a type of firearm), he promises to “stick that barrel straight down Sancho’s throat.” It appears that the narrator’s brief reflections on his need for love haven’t discouraged him from committing this crime.

To sum up, “Santeria” puts us in the chaotic mind of a man on the verge of homicide. By comically expressing murderous rage over a ska-punk groove, this track allows the listener to release a bit of their own dark side in a harmless way.

“Santeria” Music Video Meaning

There are some important things to note about the music video for “Santeria.” The song and video were released after the death of Sublime’s lead singer, Bradley Nowell. As a result, the music video contains several references to Nowell’s death, depicting him as a ghost in several scenes.

In addition, Nowell’s dog (named “Lou Dog”) appears in the video. Lou Dog repeatedly interacts with the spirit of Nowell in the video and uses this ability to advance the video’s plot. Along with the other members of Sublime, the canine remembers Nowell in this subtle tribute to the band’s late frontman.

The Story Behind “Santeria”

The bulk of this track had already been written by 1994. This was the year Sublime released their second studio album, Robbin’ The Hood, on which a track called “Lincoln Highway Dub” appeared. Although this song is an instrumental, the chord progression later used in “Santeria” can clearly be heard.

Bradley Nowell, the lead singer and lyricist on the track, died before the track’s release. As a result, little is known about his songwriting process. Drummer Bud Gaugh, along with Paul Leary and Stuart Sullivan, shed some light on the creation of “Santeria” in this Rolling Stone piece.

Reportedly, Nowell was the sole lyricist and wrote the words without any help. He required uninterrupted focus, and his fellow musicians had no issue giving it to him.

Lyrically speaking, it’s safe to say that part of the inspiration comes from Chicano lingo. A “Heina” can sometimes refer to a man’s girlfriend, and “Sancho” is frequently used as a term for a girlfriend thief. This fills in the plot of the song further and explains why the narrator wants to find a second “Heina” in the lyrics.

Contrary to a popular misconception, the song is in no way racist against Hispanics. Its lyrics are simply tied to a subset of Hispanic culture.

Whatever the full process was, fans seem to have been pleased with the result. “Santeria” made it to the Top 5 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart and stayed there for quite some time. It seems this pre-existing riff had more potential than the members of Sublime could have guessed.

The next time you play this sublime Sublime hit, let these little bits of background information make it even more special!