[FORMERLY TERENCE TRENT D’ARBY]
Digital downloads are great, but I for one miss CD liner notes. Combing the booklet of Terence Trent D’Arby’s Symphony or Damn (1993) opened me up to the readings of Greek spiritualist G. I. Gurdjieff, even as the singer endorsed Pink Floyd and Henryk Górecki symphonies in print interviews. More than a neo-soul forefather, D’Arby was a tastemaker for die-hard fans paying rapt enough attention. How ironic that MP3s (implicitly eliminating those beloved liner notes) are the preferred method of exchange for the artist currently known as Sananda Maitreya.
Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby sold multimillions around the world back in 1987, supported by hits most might need to be reminded of nowadays: “If You Let Me Stay,” “Sign Your Name,” “Wishing Well.” At the time even Prince passed a symbolic baton by performing TTD’s music in concerts. The twenty-five-year-old, Harlem-born London expatriate famously committed the blasphemy of judging his own debut better than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, ushering in a black Britpop invasion that soon included Neneh Cherry and Soul II Soul. More so than his superconfident mouth that roared, his eclectic next record, Neither Fish Nor Flesh (1989), put a quick cap on his commercial success. In retrospect the album sounds tame compared to modern soul excursions from Meshell Ndegéocello or even Kelis. Yet D’Arby’s career would never recover, despite producing more balanced follow-ups like 1995’s Vibrator.
Enter Sananda Maitreya. Legally changing his name six years ago, marrying Italian architect Francesca Francone, and settling in Milan, Maitreya is one example of what rock stardom can mean in the iPod era. Communicating with fans through MySpace, uploading music videos onto YouTube, and updating his own site (sanandamaitreya.com) regularly with spiritual aphorisms and new music, Maitreya spreads the gospel of his latest work, Angels & Vampires (2006).
I met with Sananda Maitreya at the Chococult café in western Milan. After an hour flew by, we took a brisk winter walk and continued our conversation in a nearby park.
—Miles Marshall Lewis
THE BELIEVER: What do you think will be the final result of the mass internet collaboration of YouTube, MySpace, peer-to-peer MP3 download sites, etc.?
SANANDA MAITREYA: The dinosaurs that couldn’t mutate died. The ones that said, “We might have to get smaller and become lizards” or “We might have to mutate into crocodiles” or “We might have to go Loch Ness on fools,” those are the ones that are still with us.
In the meantime, I have helped in what will be seen as the biggest communication revolution in the history of humanity. There has never been a time in humanity where this much has moved so fast. Likewise, there has never been a time in any of the postindustrial eras, ever, where the means of production has been placed back directly into the hands of the creators themselves. And that is why now Sony can’t give away most of their records, and why I’m not only still standing, I’m winning. I’m making money with my downloads.
The choice is theirs. The record industry, like many people, always has to be dragged kicking and screaming into its bliss. If they can mutate and reinvent themselves, basically as holding companies for artists and their interests, they will succeed. If they continue to see themselves in the old manner, the new form just won’t take the old vision. Just reinvent yourself, cut that overhead down, and let’s have people involved in the music business again who really give a shit about it.
The problem is, once it became a billion-dollar industry, it attracted the wrong people for the wrong reasons, and they were clogging up the industry. Middle-aged executives who cared way more about their 401K program were all of a sudden deciding what artists could and couldn’t release while looking up from their applications on some new loan information they were trying to figure out. Fuck that. Get these motherfuckers out.
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