Young Carmel Valley musician Nathan Santana finding his voice

The Santana Brothers Band includes, back row, Julian Leon, Nathan Santana, Daniel Santana, Brendan Santana; and, front row, Melissa Leon, Alexander Santana and Catrina Leon.

By Karen Billing

Carmel Valley 13-year-old Nathan Santana is one of the hardest working young musicians in San Diego, whether singing lead along with his Santana Brothers Band or performing as a soloist at local events.

Nathan Santana on vocals

Nathan recently sang the National Anthem at the Del Mar Little League Opening Day on March 2. He also had the opportunity to sing the anthem at Poway Little League Opening Day and at several swim meets — singing before hopping into the pool to compete himself as part of Pacific Swim Club.

His band performs at local music clubs, and has a standing gig at Kobey’s Swap Meet on Sundays when they don’t have a weekend swim meet. His band will also play the House of Blues on Sunday, March 17, and the April 27 Kids Expo in Del Mar.

“They are getting pretty good recognition and are already really busy for summer,” said mom Gabriela.

The Santana Brothers include Nathan’s older brother Daniel and his triplet brothers Brendan and Alexander.

Alexander plays the drums, Brendan is on guitar and Daniel plays bass.

The band is rounded out by Julian, Melissa and Catrina Leon, a 4S Ranch family the Santanas met through their swim team. Julian plays guitar and the girls sing back-up.

What makes taking the lead for this busy group all the more impressive is that Nathan is autistic and also suffers from Landau-Kleffner Syndrome, a rare disorder in which children lose the ability to understand and use spoken language and have periodic epileptic seizures, usually at night.

The syndrome also causes problems with his memory and he has struggled with information retrieval his whole life, but it does not impact his ability to remember music and lyrics.

Eye contact and speaking are two of Nathan’s biggest challenges that he is constantly working on—being in a band and having to connect with his audience has helped.

“It has definitely helped with his self esteem,” said Gabriela. “He’s a triplet and he’s always trying to keep up with his brothers who are extremely athletic. Music has become more of his thing so now they are fighting to keep up with him.”

Nathan has always been a fan of music and rock such as ACDC and Pink Floyd, but became more serious about music after attending Rock and Roll San Diego summer music camp in 2011. He started to play bass but he stopped because it was too difficult to memorize and read music because of the seizures affect on his fine motor skills. In December, Rock and Roll director Mark Langford needed someone to fill in on another group and called in Nathan.

“He discovered he had a great voice,” Gabriela said.

In January of 2012, the Santanas decided to get a band together with the help of Langford and the school. They have been performing ever since.

“I like going in front of people and rocking out,” Nathan said. “I like to do tricks with the microphone.”

The band practices once a week, taking on mostly classic rock covers. They put all the music they want to learn and play up to a group vote. While they specialize in the classics they have also added some newer music to the mix, such as some White Stripes, Green Day and Paramore.

Nathan’s favorite songs to rock out to are “Sweet Child of Mine” and “TNT.”

As he heads into high school, Nathan hopes to continue with his music education. He would like to learn to play piano and is looking forward to attending Canyon Crest Academy and taking advantage of its music program.

In preparation for CCA he is studying different types of music to expand his repertoire and has recently discovered jazz.

He encourages anyone facing similar challenges as he does to not be afraid to try new things.

“I would tell them don’t give up,” Nathan said.

For more information on the band, visit