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What Ever Happened to Sananda Maitreya?

You probably recall this Grammy winner’s debut album Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby (1987). Over a decade ago, he officially changed his name after an epiphany. Now, the 52-year-old husband and father calls Italy home, but he hasn’t stopped creating music. JET caught up with the spirited artist. 

JET: What sparked your name change? Is it a different language and does it have a translation?

Sananda Maitreya: What led to the name Sananda Maitreya was a very bold leap of faith. But it isn’t actually that bold when the house is on fire, and you have no choice but to jump if you want to survive. You may come up limping, but you did survive the fire. As far as what it means, apparently, quite a few things. But to me, it simply means, “thank God for my new home.” It is a name in the Sanskrit language connected to God and I needed something heavy, you dig? 

JET: Your website mentions that your music is Post Millennium Rock. How would you describe that?

SM: The lazy beauty of the situation as it unfolds itself; Post Millennium Rock (PMR) is an ongoing process and will continue to reveal itself as it goes. Soul music died when soul music lost the debate on its own telling and had to settle for someone else’s idea of what its limits should be. All music dies in someone else’s hands. For sure, it is my opportunity to allow for the existence of a music that is the amalgamated extract of all of what has influenced my varied blood. There is also extant in the idea the notion that perhaps African-Americans are ready to assume their own responsibility for the definitions of what being that means to them, and are willing to stop listening to counter-programming from sources afraid, as always, of their power to reinvent themselves and their lives. We are transformers and that is why the law is always focused on containing our manifestations. And PMR is not a racist claim. Just come and get to this!

JET: Has your musical style changed since you first came onto the scene in the late ’80s?

SM: I never had a “style.” I had a dream. Styles will kill you faster than miles! What there is in me makes me what I am, grows, and follows its interest. I trust in the sensibility that God gave to me. I am not a scientist, I am an artist. This means that I am not obliged to follow formula, but grace and whatever useful shadows I can chase. I write songs, not styles. I am neither a brain surgeon nor a building inspector. I am not asked to follow a schematic or a code. I am only asked to maintain interest in what I do, if I expect to interest others.

JET:  Growing up, who were your musical influences?

SM: From the beginning: The Beatles, Motown, Stax, The Stones, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, The Who, Aretha Franklin, Patsy Cline, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Mahalia Jackson, Shirley Caesar, Jimi Hendrix, Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, Wilson Pickett, The Jackson 5, Maria Callas, Dionne Warwick, Led Zeppelin, Cream, my mom and many others.

JET: When did you first realize that you wanted to become an entertainer?

SM: At the age of 2, upon hearing the music of the Beatles. I can also remember being in love with the song “Poison Ivy” by the Coasters. It was in the air, and I caught the spirit. Though much later, the idea of entertaining as first priority was replaced by the need to create and explore, in taking the spirit deeper and wider. Art has taxes, too.

JET:  Where do you find inspiration?
SM: Inspiration comes from all places and all angles and can come at any time. It can come from everyday observation and direct communication with your environment. It can come from the angels, the trees, nature, your family, dreams and your imagination. The point is to be available to good ideas. And any idea that engages you and moves you forward is a good idea. Instruments themselves can inspire; it is always nice to keep a few around! And good eating and wine!

JET:  As a father, what life lessons are you making sure to impart?

SM: Pay attention, love your life and beware of thieves.

JET:  What about Italy, or Europe as a whole, do you prefer in terms of your career?

SM: I moved to the Old Country in the early 2000s. Europe is often less moved by what a thing is branded, as by what it delivers. So, you don’t necessarily have to be your last thing if your current thing amuses. This provides more creative space in which to be inspired. The deal is, you can do what you dare as long as it works! There is also a well-grown intellectual aspect of musical appreciation here. I prefer that environment for my work; it allows for growth and, in fact, demands it. The American culture respects little that is not about money first, second and last, and will resent what wills to be about more. In Europe, art is respected as a cultural necessity and is adjunct to balanced living and the acknowledgment that artists get is the type normally reserved in American culture for doctors and judges. 

JET: What’s your latest album?

SM: My new project is The Rise of the Zugebrian Time Lords. They are the mortal enemies of The Zooathalon. This is a battle for the soul of Zooathalon. The whole cosmic battle takes place in a snow globe, and things get really shaken up. It’s a fun project for me and, as usual, we’ve presented the album in chapters on my website, sanandamaitreya.com. And hope that variously, it amuses and entertains.

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Follow Sananda Maitreya on Facebook at sananda.org and on Twitter @SanandaMaitreya