Born in Jerez de la Frontera (Cadiz, Spain), Maria made her first demo tape at 18.
Two years later, she made her debut as ‘Mala Rodriguez’ and forever changed the face of Spanish hip-hop with her smash hit “Yo Marco El Minuto”, by becoming the first female to gain scene-dominance in a male-dominated music genre.
‘La Mala’ also won Best Urban Songfor her single “No Pidas Perdon” at the 2010 Latin Grammy Awards and has formed part of line-ups that included artists such as Green Day, Jamiroquai, Kanye West, The Killers and Fatboy Slim.
The music video for her single in collaboration with Nelly Furtado, “Bajo Otra Luz”, set a record as the #1 Most Viewed Video Worldwide with 2.7 million views in its first week.
UPDATE from 30th March, 2018: The lyric video of her collaboration with Juan Magán, “USTED”, has garnered to date over 83 million views in YouTube.
SRM: Mala, born María Rodríguez on February 13. It’s clear that the number 13 hasn’t brought you any ‘bad (mala) luck’, though. Are you or have you ever been superstitious? What do you believe in at the most fundamental level?
MALA RODRIGUEZ: I’m not superstitious, I believe inthe power of eachperson,in their personal effortand of course inluck,butwe eachseek our own.
SRM: Your lyrics, as well as poetic, have always been incisively clever and ruthless in their commentary. At what pointdid you realisethat music,and especiallyyour greattalent forrapping,would beyour ally andyour weapon?In short,at what point does Maria become La Mala (The Bad One)?
MALA RODRIGUEZ: When I was little I loved dancing, writing and doing all sorts of fun things with my family. We are many cousins … but in my teens I found hip-hop and from there it was that I really wanted to share my thoughts, my ideas, my way of understanding the world with other people. At that moment is when La Mala started to gestate.
SRM: Many of the great female hip-hop artists of the UK and US scenes agree that this is a musical genre in which there’s a general tendency toward some kind of misogyny. Have you suffered discrimination for being a woman doing hip-hop, and, if so, does massive success make things better or worse?
MALA RODRIGUEZ: In the field of hip-hop there is a lot of immaturity… but hey there’s also maturity! What is crazy is the patriarchy that dominates the planet, creating a tremendous imbalance for all. And there’s nothing greater than the symbol of the yin and yang and what it represents: complementing each other. We should let ourselves receive help, have a positive, open and receptive attitude, all female qualities that no doubt many of the men who inhabit the earth can develop and thus achieve a more complete sense of being.
Success gives you your freedom, your time. I want to know more about everything around me, reflect, take a more critical view of everything, with more consciousness; it all depends on what your concerns are.
SRM: In 2000, you sign with Universal and the album ‘Lujo Ibérico’ (Iberian Luxury) sees the light with hits like “Yo Marco el Minuto” (I Mark the Minute), which was included in the 2001 Spanish film Sex and Lucia.
However, your second album, ‘Alevosía’ (Treachery), sees you meeting, for the first time, with the censorship of Spanish television, which prohibited the broadcast of the video for the single “La Niña” (The Girl). As an artist and social activist, how did you live this kind of censorship? What reasons were given for this prohibition and how would you refute them at this point in time?
MALA RODRIGUEZ: It’s all part of the great moral hypocrisy of our world. “La Niña” (The Girl) revealed something so enormous, it had so much ‘weight’ that not even that kind of censorship could sink it and it didn’t. I appreciate everything that happens to me. Good or bad always leads me to the right place and with the education I need in every moment.
SRM: Those are wise words and a healthy attitude, indeed. In ‘Malamarismo’, launched in 2007, we can perceive a more pronounced experimentation with different types of sounds and rhythms which adds to the quality of the whole album. We also find a Mala concerned about domestic violence, an issue that, sadly, takes the headlines of everyday news. And a visionary Mala, too, by launching a message which, at the same time as being blunt, is also filled with hope. What do you think of what has been called ‘the Spanish Revolution’? Do you foresee a permanent change in consciousness taking place?
MALA RODRIGUEZ:Everyone should do what each should do. If the students of this generation don’t take over and make their voice heard no one else will. They are fighting a giant … Did we really believe that what we had here or in any other country was real democracy? Positive thinking is a major force that we should use to achieve that long awaited change by all of us. SRM: You’ve collaborated with many high-profile artists but perhaps the best known are Akon, Nelly Furtado and Julieta Venegas. Who is number one on your list of those with whom you wish to collaborate but have not yet had the opportunity to do so?
MALA RODRIGUEZ: I deeply admire Lauryn Hill. She would undoubtedly be the person with whom I’d love to share a rhythm and make a great song. All artists with whom I worked are wonderful and are great workers because success is not achieved any other way than with talent, hard work and discipline.
SRM : ‘Dirty Bailarina’ (Dirty Dancer), starts with the powerful “No Pidas Perdon” (Don’t Ask for Forgiveness) in which a sexier and more lethal than ever Mala shows us the dead end of a violence circle. What has made La Mala stronger on her path? What inspired this work and what single of those contained in the album better reflect your current mood?
MALA RODRIGUEZ: Dirty is my most ‘feminine’ album and I’ve poured everything in it. I have shown the kind of time I was living through and wanted to share everything that I felt with anyone listening … I show my emotions, my feelings, opinions, ideas, dreams… I transmit the force that fuels me to keep doing what I do. Definitely EVERYTHING inspires me: a conversation, a detail, a sunset, a time in the past, death, life … I’m working on a project that will soon see the light, is called the Train of the Witch… SRM: Where are we going to find La Mala on tour soon, revolutionising her audience?
MALA RODRIGUEZ: Southern Spain, Latin America and the Caribbean, enjoying the good vibe of the people who come to my concerts and building a bridge between my audience and I. And happy!! SRM: That’s all wonderful to hear. Thank you very much for sharing your time and great talent with us!
In the ancient language of Sanskrit, Sananda means ‘joyful’ and/or ‘one who walks with light’, whilst Maitreya is to be interpreted as ‘loving-kindness’.
It’s no accident that the artist who I am about to interview, would dream recurrently about these names in his darkest hours, when the fishnet of the corporation was starting to strangle the very gift that was his life purpose.
Sananda Maitreya was born in Manhattan, New York, at the break of the 60s and found himself in all of his glory at the end of the 20th Century.
From birth to recognition, through and beyond, this hugely talented singer/songwriter and musician was a Grammy-nominee and won a Grammy in the category of Best R&B Vocal Performance. He was also chosen for the British Awards as “Top International Newcomer”, given a Soul Train Award nomination for Best New Artist (amongst other reputed Award nominations and wins) and baptized ‘New Prince of Pop’.
His debut solo album has sold over 12 million copies so far and with it the artist set a world record, for in its release it was the first debut album in history to sell one million copies in just over 3 days.
Worldwide success was bittersweet. Fish Sananda knew he was meant to lead a life as Maitreya, and thereby he made the enormously brave decision to jump out the money-pond, before he was caught and strangled by the corp-net, thus reaching the waters of the Soul, in setting up his own independent label, through which he has kept distributing his wonderful, soul stirring, heart healing music.
Music that you’ll have heard in famous movies, series, commercials and in other well-known artists’ albums as collaborations, as well as in Sananda’s own prolific works. Music that will probably be entangled in your veins, running in your blood, reaching and setting residence in your brain by a five-octave vocal range.
And so the story of the artist has been told, although I feel that this is, somehow, the moment it begins all over again… Classic, current, timeless, multi-talented, wild, free… he was, is and will always and simply BE.
But before I can have the immense pleasure of offering you his words, directly from his heart, digitally poured by his own hand, let me give you a list of my all time favourite songs of his, old and new. Be forewarned the list is not short, but I bet that you’ll recall the delicious taste of all the notes behind most of these words as well as the distinctive, unique, otherworldly voice that sings them:
If You All Get to Heaven * If You Let Me Stay * Wishing Well * I’ll Never Turn My Back on You (Father’s Words) * Dance Little Sister * Seven More Days * Let’s Go Forward * Rain * Sign Your Name * It Feels So Good to Love Somebody Like You *To Know Someone Deeply is to Know Someone Softly * This Side of Love * Roly Poly * I Don’t Want to Bring your Gods Down * She Kissed Me *Do you Love Me Like you Say * Delicate (with Des’ree) * Succumb To Me * Vibrator * Holding on to You * Undeniably * Surrender * It’s Been Said * Designated Fool * My Dark Places * Drivin’ Me Crazy * Suga Free * Testify * Shalom * Ev’rythang * …And They Will Never Know * Shadows * Reach out * I’m your daddy * Dolphin * It ain’t been easy * Daddy can I have a war? * Pretty Baby * South Side Run * It’s just my pain * Screamer * Marlene * C.Y.A.M.G. * If I were * I Never Knew How Much * Sometimes You Gotta Cry *At The Crossroads * If I Just Stay With You * Has It Been Too Quiet? * Ooh Carolina * Because You’ve Changed * Superstar * Sananda’s Variation on a theme by Mozart * I Never Know * The Blame*What Baby Wants* The Laughing Song * This Far…
He presents his music as POST MILLENNIUM ROCK: its main elements are heart and soul, its nature made of passion, courage and curiosity; it acknowledges no rules. And so, no matter how he may prefer to dress his expression, or the perspectives from which this expression springs, let’s not forget that, at its core, its truth is universal: FREEDOM & LOVE.
SRM: Sananda, thank you for responding to my questions today, I know that you are always busy with writing and music recording sessions. POST MILLENNIUM ROCK is a musical style that could be tentatively described in a poem verse like…
‘Judas bled heavy his debt to the Lord,
in poverty pleading for his room and board.
He read to the children of Jerusalem,
seduced by his flute, he would read
Proust to them. More cannot be stated.
However WE rate it, he was of
use to them. He evened out his score,
while heaven called a truce with him.
His descendents live in Baltimore’.
SRM: Wow, just like that. Love for others, whether this is a fraternal or a romantic love is a recurrent theme in your lyrics.
What do you think most literature and film have reflected accurately and what they have confused people more with so far about the subject of “Romantic Love”?
SANANDA MAITREYA: The greatest known love is love for the self or you are fooling yourself about what love is and will be hard pressed to share it. We share what we know, and to know love from within is to be able to distribute it where you choose.
Love does NOT oblige.
LOVE COMPELS. Duty obliges and duty is what duty is and has its place, but it is not love itself. ROMANTIC LOVE is not love. It is a particular form of illusion based on how we see ourselves. It is no less vital or valid as a level of expression, though in the long run, that is all it is, a noble form of expression, but not the love itself. Face it, sometimes, romantic love is but a scorpion charming and kissing your hand right before it stings it with its deadly venom.
Sometimes, romantic love leads to the NEXT door, LOVE.
And most importantly, LOVE IS TO EACH AND FOR EACH, AN INDIVIDUAL REVELATION.
My love may bear little or no resemblance to your love, but damn if both of our versions are not real. Love is too vast to be so meekly and timidly defined. Love is not a mouse. Love is a lion. Our visions of Romantic love DO tend to be more unified, as romantic love includes a communal symbolic language which we are mainly attuned to as a culture.
SRM: You never stop hearing music in your head and in fact play several instruments, but does your song writing always follow the same flow, do you hear the music before you think of the lyrics or has it happened the other way around at any point? I know you love writing and you do write poems, as you showed earlier, so I wonder if the latter could be a possibility too…
SANANDA MAITREYA: I never stop hearing music because our dear mother nature never stops singing it. The planets still keep up their daily planetary chatter. The moon still clears her throat, and even a good long winded fart has potential for music in it. This is what I do. This is what I were designed by spirit and nature to do, therefore without fanfare or too many trumpets, I do it. And I have never loved doing it more. It follows a fairly regular pattern (we know each other well) unless in those moments where I feel I need to be shaken up, upon which time I will choose a different process to keep me and the work fresh. At some point our aim is to take some poems or text from scratch and begin from that perspective, much as masters Schubert and Schumann did. In the meantime, my mule takes my tools up the mountain, so while that mule is able and willing, we stick with that mule most of the time.
SRM: Do you remember the precise moment in which you realised that you could connect with others through your own musical creations?
SANANDA MAITREYA: Yes, it was in a former life, prior to this one. The age was two. I heard the Beatles, after which time I realized that were my destiny as well. It wasn’t even about me, though the connection was so strong that I felt that they were speaking on my behalf as well. Yes, I have always had a sense, a knowing, that we were meant for this life. And that we were meant to lead. Otherwise, where would all of these ass-whippings be coming from and why?
SRM: Which of my favourite songs of yours, listed in the introduction, can you say that have most resonated within your heart, throughout the years?
SANANDA MAITREYA: I don’t have favorite songs, and I do not DO favorite songs. Frankly, I never revisit old work, it is anathema to my essential nature. One day, apprehending the approach of death, I may choose to go over the work I’ve done. I will not and cannot be judged by the length of just one or two jigsaw pieces, when the whole tapestry is still being worked on. I don’t think as much like a songwriter, I think more like a publisher now. Not ‘what have we done?’, but ‘what more do I need?’. Life is too short to gaze at your reflection in the mirror while they are shooting at it.
SRM: You moved to Europe from the US in 2001, first to Germany, where you started your own independent record label, and soon moved to Italy, where you have your permanent residence. You have mentioned in other interviews (please correct me otherwise) that you feel America as your mother and Europe as your wife. How did it feel for you the moment you left what you’d known as your first home, to marry this old continent? And are there remarkable differences between their audiences?
SANANDA MAITREYA: The history of music clearly suggests that YES, there is a difference between a European and American audience. For a start European audiences tend to be less politicized as well as more knowledgeable and accepting of different forms and levels of expression. But ultimately my art is where my heart is. My heart is here because the living here is closer to my concept of good living. The freedoms promised to me elsewhere, but stingily doled out and parted with only after punishment, come more easily to me, at this stage of my living, here in Europe.
Italy LOVES music and the place and esteem for it and its practitioners are clear. Music and politics are yet far too segregated and mean-spirited for me to ever feel my place within it. Nor did anyone go out of their way there to make me feel a part of it. History would have swaggered a bit more and not stumbled and bled to death had my vision among others, been more included and those I encountered as my daily bread, not so painfully deluded.
SRM: “Wildcard!” was the first of your albums released through your own label, and it received raving reviews. In your opinion, can critics break and/or impulse artists or a true artist should pay no attention to critics?
SANANDA MAITREYA: Critics are like stoplights, traffic lights. Regardless of whether ALL YOU CATCH IS RED LIGHTS, you are still bound towards reaching your destination. To never catch a green light can be frustrating, unless by grace you have something important enough to keep your attention away from trivial things while stopped at the red light. Good news is, I am not on the main road anymore, and where I am, there are as of yet no traffic lights. No one can be a tougher critic of my work than myself.
I am a major fan and absorber of music for 48 years of life and feel at this point fairly confident in my own taste. I do not worry about OBJECTIVITY, for the simple reason that I am not making ‘objective art’. I make music to move my spirit on, and assume, within reason that if it touches my soul, it may, just may touch someone else’s. Since we no longer have to sleep with corporate accountants in my bed, I am not moved by numbers, but by the facts as they must be, coming through me. I have learned from critics in the past, but learned to avoid reading ANYTHING written about me or my close friends, many many years ago. Also bear in mind, that almost nowhere are there objective critics.
Almost ALL criticism is socio-political. It matters not if the work is great IF THEY FEEL THAT YOU ARE STEEPING OVER A LINE that their minds and systems have already drawn, THEY WILL SLAP YOUR SILLY ASS UP, period. Are you a probable threat to their ICONOGRAPHY? ‘Then smash this motherfucker, and now’.
If you wish to have your mind destroyed, a mind carefully built up over time and circumstance, then read criticism. If however, you have not much of a mind, nor much confidence in the one you do have, then PERHAPS THEY ARE DOING YOU A FAVOR IN TEARING IT DOWN and taking it away. A mind is only a terrible thing to waste if there IS something there to waste. Once your mind is made up and oriented towards ITS STAR, listen to nothing or no one but the guiding light, which a VISION is by definition. And be afraid to tell no one to go and fuck themselves. Your vision of the world is just as valid as any other noisy and preposterous fool. Join the list of them and BE HAPPY at all costs.
SRM: If each of your released albums represented a predominant feeling, from your debut album to “Nigor Mortis”, what emotional spectrum would result?
SANANDA MAITREYA: The Miami Dolphins between 1970-1973. Those colors would be turquoise, orange and white if not mistaken. It also represents the ascent out of the shadow of the past, or symbolically if you will, ORPHEUS’ finally getting his girl and getting the hell out of Hades.
SRM: About “The Sphinx”: What inspiring forces drove it and what is its overall message?
SANANDA MAITREYA: Read the blogs concerning the ZOOATHALON: sanandamaitreya.com/the_sphinx . The animal stories are the archetypal antecedent or parallel to the music, more of which arrives quite excitedly and very soon! The overall message cannot be simpler. We always try, if we can get away with it, to sprinkle a little hubris on top of what inspires us. It attracts arrows. I have grown to accept that by nature and karma, I will attract a few arrows. Arrows attract interest and interest attracts yield. It also attracts yeast, so do be careful! The Zooathalon is a living dimensional reality, albeit a reality which mostly takes place in what we would now describe as more ‘middle earth’.
SRM: Your label was one of the first that offered, through its official website, free mp3 tunes, single tracks and whole album mp3 downloads and other digital goodies, as well as tasters (chapters) of your musical works, before releasing them in full. What has the internet meant to you at a professional level and what does it mean at a personal level?
SANANDA MAITREYA:On both levels it simply means A WHOLE LOT LESS BULLSHIT to wade through simply to get to your own mind, period. I have always been attuned to work and working. I am old school in that I trust that work is good for the soul which is fulfillment. That having good preoccupations keeps us safer from the more dangerous or suffocating monotonous ones.
Nothing is more important to me as an artist than the work. To be able to give voice and space to the creations and ideas which magnetize to me means everything. I feel strongly that many of my past heroes would have LOVED to be in such a predicament, to rid themselves of the dandruff of mediocre expectation and its apologists, of total predictability and allow themselves to engage more directly with people of like mind and sensibility.
SRM: When and where do you think we’ll be able to see you live? Is The Nudge Nudge the band that you normally tour with?
SANANDA MAITREYA: The Nudge are my loyal and faithful live posse, yes. A trio is always a tricky thing, it works or it doesn’t and I love the chemistry we have developed and the musical language we have shared. There are as of yet a real politic that keeps me from your shores as I am now and concerning what I bring. The system has a real hard time absorbing me, (though not in taking from me) so naturally I have a hard time absorbing them. There has also been clandestine campaigning against my rights elsewhere as it pertains to your country and so am reluctant to go anywhere where I need to go through a load of bullshit.
Upon correct receipt of timing, I am content to play where the excitement is based on PMR. I’ve nothing left in my tank for the past prior to the new life and process which has gotten and sustained me this far. I love the work of PMR, have waited my entire life to pursue it, have paid in blood many times over for it and loss not a few coins as a result. They have already killed more than a few of my contemporaries, whether it took destroying their minds or their bodies. I’ll be damned if those sulphur breathing dragons are going to drag me back there and attack and ridicule my spirit. Been there, done that, lost a life and a good one to it, and am now working on the book.
Unless of course I can manage to condense it into a really good T-Shirt. We artists come and go, but good merchandising lives on! Mind you we are proud of what history we may have left in the wake of the pursuit of our dream to create a newer expression more suited to my mind and not just my ‘profile’. But it belongs to time now, to Sony and their octopus like existence. For me, they are but a few memories we still remember, though vaguely and much as if it had happened to someone else that I were close to.
SRM: Again, it’s been a pleasure have you participating in this interview, Sananda. All the best to you and your family!
SANANDA MAITREYA: Much thanks to you. I hope that it makes some space for itself in your heart. I hope that these replies are according to the template of your needs. May spirit bless you and keep you close to what matters!