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The Meaning of Sublime’s “Santeria”

Sublime’s “Santeria” is one of the most well-known songs that the band released. Written by the late Bradley Nowell, the sunny track appeared on Sublime’s self-titled album that was released just two months after his death (an instrumental version did appear on 1994’s Robbin’ The Hood). The album turned out to be a massive success fueled by the publicity surrounding Brad’s death, but that didn’t take away from the quality of the music.

“Santeria” rose to the top of the stack of many iconic hits along with another single “What I Got”, becoming the two songs that defined the public perception of the band’s music. They are summertime classics and will always sound great on the beach, preferably with some cold beer, right along with the rest of Sublimes discography.

The name “Santeria” comes from a religious practice that developed in Cuba that involves making contact with the spirit world and making sacrifices to it in order to have success in your personal relationships.

The title sets the hispanic theme for the song and gives us the memorable opening lyric: “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.” This introduces our narrator, who is hoping to win back a woman who has left him for another man.

“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.”

Here Bradley uses two words that are commonly the Chicano culture: “Heina” and “Sancho”. According to the Online Slang Dictionary, “Heina” is a word that is evolved from the Spanish word reina, meaning queen.

However, others suggest that the word is actually spelled “hiena”, which is Spanish for “hyena”. I tend to agree with this spelling, based on the knowledge that Bradley often used dirty Spanish slang words in his songwriting, and this would be one he picked up in the underbelly of Los Angeles. This would mean that Bradley is referring to his cheating girlfriend as a sort of dog-like animal that isn’t worth much respect.

The lyrics to “Waiting For My Ruca”, off the band’s 1992 album 40oz. To Freedom also use the word “hiena” to describe a woman, although in different way that is also not exactly positive.

“Sancho”, on the other hand, refers to a man who steals another man’s woman.

Thus, the lyrics to “Santeria” depict Bradley’s imagination running wild with things that he might do to get revenge on this Sancho character, in order to win back his Heina.

Still, the song maintains a playful and laid-back energy throughout, and in the end Bradley concedes “And I’ll make it, yeah, my soul will have to wait.”

Watch the video for “Santeria” by Sublime below.