IN CONVERSATION: Sananda Maitreya

He was violently shaken up out of the dream…if somebody wakes you up…it’s very hard to go back to sleep and dream.”

Sananda Maitreya is the multi-million-selling star formerly known as Terence Trent D’Arby. His rise to stardom was meteoric, his massively successful 1987 debut album Introducing The Hardline According To… featuring the smash hit singles ‘Sign Your Name’, ‘Wishing Well’ and ‘If You Let Me Stay’, spent nine weeks at number one and 45 weeks in the Top 40. He had an unmistakable magnetism and a striking voice, talent and soul. If his rise was swift, especially in the United Kingdom, so was his descent. After the declining sales of his follow-up albums, he felt rejected by the music business, leading to PTSD.

After he disappeared from the limelight for much of a decade, he fully re-emerged in the early 2000s with a string of records, under the name Sananda Maitreya explaining in a interview that his previous identity “was dead… he watched his suffering as he died a noble death. After intense pain I meditated for a new spirit, a new will, a new identity”. Maitreya explained his name meant “rebirth” in Sanskrit. Sānanda meaning ‘possessed of happiness’, and maitreya means ‘friendly, kind, loving, benevolent’.

Sananda Meitreya is an absolutely fascinating interviewee. During our over an hour long conversation, he provides a 360 degree insight into his life, elements of philosophy and talks cogently about his artistry, song writing and career and how in his view the industry tried to control him in order to maximise commercial viability at the expense of his creativity, a theme echoed by the struggles faced by current artists like Raye. Above all, though, he now sounds centred in his power and fully plugged into who he is as an artist and person, regardless of his trials and previous fame.

He has sought to reclaim his identity, his whole back catalogue relabelled under his current moniker. Since Sananda Maitreya returned to music he has explored all avenues of creating songs, remaining grateful to his old self. He explains: “I was a different spirit with a different vibration, which is why I had a different name. I feel indebted to the work that person set up but, by the time I was 27, something had shifted. Mine was a completely different experience. It was a weird way of joining ‘The 27 Club’, where I was forever looking to replace that which had been replaced.”

His initial plan for his thirteenth album, his Season 13 was simple: a 13-song guitar-led record staying on bass, drums and two guitars. Then, the month before his 60th birthday in March 2022, Maitreya started working on a new project; it was time to finish the arc started with his Prometheus & Pandora album in 2017 and continued on 2021’s Pandora’s PlayHouse.

What he produced is a labyrinthine 41 song opus, The Pegasus Project: Pegasus And The Swan, a sprawling record released last month, sewn with bluesy inspired rock songs, tender string-led operatic songs, playful funk, pop music, and esoteric spoken word. Sananda’s voice is unshakeably still him, swelling with soul and pain, and frayed a bit by the passage time, but that only adds to the experience. Playing into his universe, it’s part three of his recent album series that he titles “Post Millennium Rock”. ” l always envision each album as their own standalone theatre production that also fit cohesively into a larger kind of Tolkien style or Wagnerian type of mythology that it created for itself.” The aim, he explains, is“to create its own language, and world so that every piece could inhabit as separate pieces within that world, but also each piece, furthering the act, the understanding of what this universe is that has been created. It’s like how Marvel and DC make films such as Iron Man and Spider-Man with the same understanding of mythology as the Ancient Greeks.”

In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first human woman created by Hephaestus on the instructions of Zeus. In myths, Pandora opened “Pandora’s box” releasing all the evils of humanity.” Sananda Maitreya draws a comparison with his own experiences. Even if it’s not conscious, everybody subconsciously knows who Pandora is or what she represents.” He explains,” so I’ve always had a great love of Babylonia, Babylonian and Sumerian, Egyptian, Greco Roman mythology, because I’ve always believed that we only call them mythology because they represent a time before we started writing things down.”

Sananda Maitreya 3

The new album is part of a trilogy that started with Prometheus & Pandora and then Pandora’s Playhouse and now the Pegasus project is the end of that particular trilogy.

I identify so much with Orpheus and Prometheus and I felt as if my life did have a parallel to the story of Prometheus whereby he was banished by the gods from Heaven to deal with life here on earth with us mortals, and I knew what that situation was like to be perceived as a kind of threat of a political or a social kind of threat in a way to the powers that be and have sway over who does and doesn’t get seen, who does and doesn’t get noticed.” Sananda Maitreya expands, “so I felt like I lived that banishment in real time and obviously began to see, the convenience of me adapting that story, to tell my story.

Mr Magoo (The Insurrection Song)‘ bristles with bluesy, playful drama in every note. “There was a big production song missing from the start of the musical,” he says. It shows how Zeus is forced to choose between remaining a God or exiling his beloved protégé, Prometheus. But, well, it’s also called Mr Magoo. “It’s about the Gods telling Zeus: ‘Get that motherfucker Prometheus out of here,’’ laughs Meitreya. “But the humour had to be there too and Mr Magoo is an easy shorthand for someone blind to what’s going on around them. Now I’ve got Mr Magoo, the last piece of the puzzle for the musical is in place.”

Sananda’s mission has always been to follow his own path and artistic direction, stepping away from the squeaky clean pop aesthetic, to create work more plugged into his own spirit, dipping into a panoply of genres and lyrics that touch on personal epiphanies, race, politics, love, and the esoteric, but which are built into his own universe. Co-producers on the album include Andy Wright (Pet Shop Boys/Massive Attack) on the funky and sweeping ‘Love Is Blind’, Jellybean Johnson on ‘Walk On’ and composer Oscar Deric Brown, who helped on ‘The Last Word’ and ‘I Have A Dream’. Johnson was also drummer in The Time, the early proteges of Prince – a friend of Maitreya’s who long helped guide him. There’s a hat-tip to his mentor in the playful interlude ‘BDSM‘, which features the saturnine presence of Mr Correcto.

“Prince and I had a very special relationship,” recalls Sananda. “We had a mind meld experience. When Prince was trying to reach me, I could always tell. I idolised him, and he adopted me like a younger brother. It was like Michael Jordan seeing Kobe Bryant. I keep a picture of Prince in my studio and I still feel I’m collaborating with him at times. My voice as Mr Correcto is like when Prince used to do his treated character voices.”

That sexual side is on display on the funk elements of ‘Being Watched’, Sananda’s voice is at its most insistent. He smiles: “Sexy sells. I’m certainly trying to capture feeling sexy in those songs. It’s an important emotion, part of a record’s wide palette. You want to ensure every ingredient is best represented, same as throwing a dinner party.”

The first draft of the shuffling spoken word of ‘Being Watched” arrived when Sananda was 27 and in Massachusetts to record what became his third record, Symphony Or Damn. It was published as a poem on his website eight years ago. Its final version arrived towards the end of The Pegasus Project, “The culmination of something I’d had for song, now in its proper context.”

“I wrote that poem and what she said came to me when I was in Concord, Massachusetts, which is the home of historical home of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Daniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, all of those people were around Concord, Massachusetts around the same time and they founded the American literary movement called the transcendentalist,” he recalls.

“So, I was enamoured of the idea of the place. I was still living in England at the time and I rented a place there for like three or four months during the changing of the season sometime in the autumn and if I was impressed by Hyde Park, and the way those leaves change, I was mind blown by New England and Concord, Massachusetts is only like 45 minutes northwest of Boston. So it’s a such a beautiful part of the country anyway. I just spent time there, getting my spirit together, and, engaging in creative works and that’s where I was when that poem came to me, we published it.”

“So for me, it also attaches to the place because that place is magic. Under the famous Walden Pond, I would take walks around there; it was a very mystical place. So, for me, it just needed another exposure, because it’s got something of timelessness for me that it just moves me in a certain way. And I want to make sure that so I was recapitulating it I framed it and put it with a set of songs that I think it would fit very well into.”

Sananda Maitreya returns to how he views his former identity and how he felt the trauma of his early meteoric rise and fall, and how in his view the music industry tried and failed to tame his talent. “At some point, it became clear that particular magic and particular entity, that particular consciousness had gone but it had nothing to do with the ability, the ability was still there, the confidence was still growing. He continues of his former self, “You know, because in art, he felt like a liberator, not with some big giant L but he felt always attacked, just like the Beatles that liberated his spirit, just like the Stones, and Stevie Wonder and Sly and the Family Stone and just like all of those people that liberated my fucking spirit!


“We learned the value of letting no one control your life and your vision of your life, except the person having the vision and that’s you! And if you don’t wake up and realise that’s the way it is, and it needs to be. You will only condemn yourself to suffering and again, okay, and there’s only so much suffering a spirit can endure, so much we can inflict upon our spirit before it turns against us and there’s no fucking worst enemy you can possibly have than yourself. You can surmount your other enemies much easier than you can surmount yourself as an enemy, because your enemy of yourself will never face you head on because then you might see it, it hides, and it sabotages and it undermines.”

Of the music industry at the time, he says, “They go, okay, back this up, yeah, we acknowledge this talented brother. But this magician is only going to cause problems and he’s going to encourage the other magicians to also go their own way and to do their own thing and then we’ve lost these motherfuckers entirely because for the top people in their positions to control the rest of us, they don’t have to control every single individual, you just have to create the people that they will follow and pay attention to, and promote those people. ”

“The record companies play their role in the establishment of projecting an image to society,” Sananda continues. “Most people don’t give a shit about going their own way but for the people like myself for who it was imperative I’m not that, I’m this. If you are not willing to support the anti-hero except when you can guarantee the script, because the rebel image is a great image to promote as long as it’s not real. That’s the threat we posed and it wasn’t anything egregious. The primal fear was that some guy came out of nowhere and so who is this guy? In a system that is much less willing to promote someone who is less willing to promote the system. If anybody throws a potential spanner in the work, you are going to lose that, it doesn’t weigh on them they don’t care about who it is, or the art, it could be whoever can replace the numbers they don’t give a shit, if its Mickey Mouse they don’t care. “

“Like I didn’t want to be a black artist, I was a Beatle, fuck all of that shit! If you couldn’t see the difference between being a black artist and an artist who is also black, then that’s not my problem,” He says defiantly. “I don’t just identify as a black dude, that’s your issue. I identify as a native American who has blessed Spanish, Scots, Irish and West Indian blood to share this Native blood I come from. I’m not going to let what I’ve seen historically frustrate one of my tribes and you ask me to participate keeping that same shit alive for the next generation people looking at me as a hero. I’m not going to do that. I take this hero business seriously because I know the power of what my heroes did for my life, so now it’s my chance to do that. I am not going to cynically surrender that for the benefit of quarterly projections and that bullshit. I don’t mind working with a corporation I don’t want to work for a corporation. I have my thing to look after,” he explains of why he rejected of being put in a “box”. “They said you are a mixed race black guy, I say I am a native American and everyone can kiss my ass. We are living that time anyway where people are rebelling against that idea of being handed a convenient identity for the ability of others who are not willing to do the work.

“Prince said something to me, ‘I never envied you that you were a phenomenon right away because to people that’s when you arrive when they catch up to you, so for them that’s what you are. You had to suffer the fact that for you that was your very first thing, you were just getting started. Now what’s being suggested for your consciousness, you have to be a still birth. It’s like what happened to that cute baby he betrayed us by growing up?’ The difference for Prince was by the time he became the phenomenon he became, it was informed by everyone watching his progression, by watching what kind of artist he was, his breadth and depth. There wasn’t that time with me, so to them you are always that. For you as a songwriter, you just keep following the bouncing ball.”

That experience of being exiled from the music industry is the inspiration for the Prometheus & Pandora arc, which will become a musical counterpart to a film Maitreya is planning as a way to tell his life story.

“My musical and my film need a triumphant ending, because mine is a triumphant ending,” he smiles. “Not too many of us are blessed to say we live the life we’re supposed to be leading. As a kid, if I could have looked to where I am now, my mind would be blown. I was able to do all that and I still love doing it? Wow. That’s all you can really ask. That’s triumphant enough for me.

The Pegasus Project: Pegasus And The Swan is out now via Treehouse.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.