Taken from The Press-Enterprise (Feb 22, 2007)
Spearhead's lead singer's trip to Middle East results in truthful lyrics
As the outspoken leader for rock hip-hop combo Spearhead, Michael Franti is continuing in the long line of musicians who marry politically charged subject matter with rhythms and melody.
by PAUL SAITOWITZ
Lyrically, "Yell Fire" explores in an
uplifting manner what was witnessed in the Middle East.
However, what sets the gangly dreadlocked Franti apart is that his actions speak as loud as his words.
In the summer of 2004, he and some friends journeyed to Iraq, Gaza, Jordan and Israel armed with a video camera and a guitar. He wanted the experience of living in a war-torn region. What resulted was a stirring documentary of the experience called "I Know I'm Not Alone" and a follow-up album called "Yell Fire."
"I realized that by watching the news I wasn't getting any closer to truth than I wanted to be ... it was just the same stuff rehashed over and over," he said over the phone. "I had to go there and see it for myself ... when I told my manager, I could hear eyes rolling over the phone but there was no other way."
Franti first flew into Amman, Jordan, and then boarded a twin-engine plane for Baghdad. In order to land in Iraq the aircraft had to descend in spirals to avoid being shot at. Once in the country he had a few meetings scheduled, but his objective was to get a taste of life as a local.
He walked the streets and took in the faces of the soldiers and the Iraqis living in what has become of their home. He befriended local musicians, and was welcomed into the houses of many. On one day, he found a safe street corner where he could take out his guitar and start playing. In the midst of it, he heard a bomb go off and he quickly scampered away to avoid injury.
"I was on edge the whole time and the people there were almost used to it," he said. "They could tell you where the bomb went off and what kind of car it was in; it was incredible."
When he returned to his home in the Bay Area, he used the experience of editing the footage for "I Know I'm Not Alone," to inspire the lyrics for "Yell Fire."
"It was really cathartic for me because I have an editing studio in the upstairs of my house and music studio downstairs, so when I'd see something inspiring on film I'd run downstairs for a few hours and try to put a song together," he said.
The film was critically lauded and garnered Best International Documentary honors at the Harlem International Film Festival. The album is Spearhead's most melodic and most poignant. Lyrically it explores the experiences he witnessed in the Middle East, but does so in an uplifting manner.
Lyrics such as "A revolution never come with a warning/A revolution never sends you an omen/A revolution just arrived like the morning /Ring the alarm, we come to wake up the snoring," don't point the finger at the involved parties, but rather document what happened and what the next step should be.
"I'm not about the blame or calling out George Bush, I'm about moving forward and where we can go from here to make the world a better place," Franti said. "The idea is to solve problems and not to focus on what is wrong."
Reach Paul Saitowitz at 951-368-9554 or psaitowitz@PE.com