Taken from Pittsburgh Tribune (June 28, 2011)
For Michael Franti, music can connect the world
by Rege Behe, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Michael Franti recently traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to perform at a tent encampment for refugees of the 2010 earthquake. The next week he was a guest of the Million Dollar Roundtable in Atlanta, a gathering of financial and life insurance professionals.
While the gulf between those two groups is immense, Franti, who performs with his band Spearhead on Wednesday at Stage AE, North Shore, approached each opportunity in the same way.
"I have a little saying that I use: Don't convince, connect," Franti says. "That's something I've tried to do with my music all along. To not go around the world and beat people over the head with a message or convince people they should be doing something differently than they are, but to connect with them with my music. ... I do the same thing in Haiti as at the roundtable: Spending time after I play talking with people, learning where they are from, what their concerns are, and seeing if there's anything I can do to help connect the dots of what I do to other people."
Franti has long labored to draw attention to the plight of the less fortunate, addressing homelessness, AIDS and racial inequality through his music. In 2004, he went to Iraq, Israel and Palestine to film a documentary, "I Know I'm Not Alone," in which he talked to residents of Baghdad, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip about the effect of war and violence on their lives.
For more than a decade, Franti also has gone barefoot -- save when he goes through airports -- to promote Soles4Souls, an organization that distributes footwear to poor children and adults in countries including Kenya, Thailand and Nepal.
"I'd travel to countries where kids couldn't afford shoes, and I'd take off my shoes to run around with them or play soccer," Franti says. "They would all laugh at me because my feet were so tender. I decided to go home and not wear shoes for three days and see if I could toughen up my feet. But three days extended to a week, and then a month and then a year. Now it's been 11 years."
At Franti's concerts, he invites fans to bring gently worn shoes to be donated to Soles4Souls.
Franti's desire to make a difference always has been fierce, dating back to the time he spent in the Beatnigs, an industrial duo, and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. When his latest album, "The Sound of Sunshine," became his best-selling and most popular album, Franti's stages became bigger.
"We were a cult band playing in the clubs with a really loyal fan base who came out to all of our shows," Franti says. "But in the last couple of years, we've had some big hits on the radio that's got our music out to mainstream audiences around the world."
"The Sound of Sunshine" might be Franti's most mainstream album, but it came out of a period of hardship. Two years ago, he was on tour when his appendix ruptured, requiring emergency surgery. He'd waited so long to get treatment that his body became infected "from head to toe."
"I thought I was going to die," Franti says, "so when I came out of the surgery, my perspective had completely changed. I was so grateful for the simple things in life: my kids, eating an orange, just seeing the sun in the morning. So ('The Sound of Sunshine') is really about the things that are simple in life that we often overlook. I wanted to make music that is uplifting in a time of great worries for a lot of people: the global economic crisis, climate change, the wars we have, or just trying to make ends meet. It's easy to overlook the things around us that are most important to us."