Taken from Looksmart (June, 2001)
by Vivien Goldman
A SINGER PUTS HIS MONEY WHERE HIS MIC IS
The telephone interview to Amsterdam with the poetic hip-hop revolutionary, Michael Franti, was cut off so frequently that a conspiracy theorist would have assumed our call was tapped. Who by? Anybody interested in observing one of America's most ardent and articulate musical activists, who manages, Che Guevara-like, to also be a sex symbol. In May, Franti smashed a four-year silence with the funky, fiery, uplifting grooves of Stay Human (Six Degrees), interwoven with a dramatic interlude about the death penalty set in a beleaguered community radio station. Actor Woody Harrelson is featured as a hanging governor out to get Sister Fatima, a healer and community organizer wrongly sentenced to death row. Franti's passion is so infectious that even a Republican might find himself chanting along "Don't believe in the system!"
VIVIEN GOLDMAN: What's at the heart of Stay Human?
MICHAEL FRANTI: I posed myself the hypothetical question: If this is the only record I ever make, what would I want to say to the world? Musically, this record reflects the '70s soul artists who also made comments about the world, like Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Gil ScottHeron and Bill Withers.
VG: Why focus on the death penalty?
MF: The movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal deepened my commitment to finding a nonviolent end to violence. It's wrong that in my neighborhood in San Francisco, there are balloons on every street corner where somebody has been shot. It's wrong for governments to be waging war against other nations, and it's absolutely wrong for a government to be killing its own people. The death penalty is not proven to be a deterrent to murder or crime in this country. As a culture, we're constantly promoting violence, and handguns are readily available, so you're gonna end up with people who get angry and shoot somebody. We need to look at crime in a larger way, in terms of its economic roots.
VG: Has the old military-industrial complex morphed into the prison-industrial complex?
MF: Prisons are big business. In California I think it's up to about $36,000 a year to keep somebody locked up. Guards start off between $34,000 and $39,000 a year, but teachers start off at about $29,000, so it really tells you where our priorities are as a nation.
VG: What's the connection between the work you did with the Beatnigs and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and now, with your current band, Spearhead?
MF: I've always tried to grow as a storyteller. We live within a culture that is constantly trying to put the interest of the corporations over those of people and the planet. When I first started out, I was expressing just rage, but that changed when the AIDS crisis started to affect my life. The challenge of a poet is to try to make complex ideas easily understood. I try to enrage and enlighten and inspire people to become more compassionate. And to make the revolution irresistible.
Vivien Goldman is a frequent interview contributor.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Brant Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group