Taken from The Patriot Ledger (Jun. 4, 2015)
MUSIC SCENE: Spearhead frontman is spreading positive vibes
Michael Franti and Spearhead continued their hot streak of solid, dance-happy albums full of such positive anthems with 2010's “The Sound of Sunshine” and 2013's “All People.”
By Jay N. Miller, For The Patriot Ledger
Michael Franti and Spearhead are always one of the music world’s most upbeat and invigorating acts, but the kinetic 6-foot-6 frontman has even more reason to be eager to hit the stage on their current “Once a Day” tour.
Franti, 49, was in the midst of a stripped down, acoustic tour last winter when he suffered a knee injury, which ended the tour and necessitated knee surgery. The current tour, which started in in Australia and New Zealand and reaches the House of Blues in Boston on Saturday, is named after his upcoming single, “Once a Day.”
Like much of his work, it’s a song that stresses positivity and good feelings among all peoples. Amid the chaos and uncertainty of life, Franti’s website explains, “we should all hug, kiss, and remember and love somebody at least once a day.”
The single, scheduled to be released to radio June 15, was the result of some rough family news for Franti.
“My son, who is now 16, came down with a rare kidney disease last year,” Franti said. “It ripped our hearts open, of course, and in a span of six months he lost 50 percent of his kidney function. But all of that brought our family closer together to get through it. ... From May, my son is slightly worse, and eventually he will need a new kidney, and maybe two new kidneys. But at the moment we have been able to slow down the disease’s progress.”
Like his mixed heritage, Franti’s musical journey has been a mixmaster. Shortly after college (the University of San Francisco) he was part of the Beatnigs, which mixed punk rock and spoken word performance. Moving more into a funk and hip-hop palette, he next headed the Disposable Heroes of Hiphopcrisy. Franti’s writing and musical style moved even more toward funk and soul, reggae and worldbeat after he founded Spearhead in 1994.
Franti’s lyrical style also evolved, from pointing out society’s disparities and shortcomings in his early work to urging people to coexist peacefully and joyfully in his later work. While his 2000 album “Stay Human” has been described by the singer as “half venting” and half suggesting how to cope with problems, by 2003’s “Everyone Deserves Music” the message was more about affirmation and good vibes. The album Franti and Spearhead recorded in 2008 with reggae legends Sly and Robbie at the helm produced the hit single “Say Hey (I Love You),” whose simple infectious joy made the group a festival favorite all over America.
Franti and Spearhead continued their hot streak of solid, dance-happy albums full of such positive anthems with 2010’s “The Sound of Sunshine” and 2013’s “All People.” The latter album yielded the hit single “I’m Alive,” the latest in a long line of tunes that find the (usually) barefoot singer reveling in the sheer wonder of living and loving in the moment.
- At the end of 2014, the continuing strife between minority communities and police led him to write “Same as It Ever Was,” with an accompanying video filmed in inner cities. Franti has said the song and video were an attempt to foster better understanding on both sides. Approaching that controversial subject from a commonsense perspective, his song has lines like “If the world’s full of anger, and everyone’s got a gun, then what do I say to my teenage son?”
“I live in an area, outside San Francisco, that is 90 to 95 percent African-American,” Franti pointed out. “You would say it is an area of ‘intense urban activity.’ There used to be a Navy base in the area that shut down in the 1990s, which employed many of the people living there. So there is a lot of unemployment, crime, addiction and broken homes. So, there is a lot of police presence. But at the same time I know a lot of really great cops who are working hard with the best interests of the community at heart. In fact, my younger brother Matt is a cop. But when cops go wrong, or break the law, they should be held accountable, or it ruins the confidence the community has in their police. These recent incidents around the country are an opportunity for change.”
Franti’s next album will include several tunes that deal with social issues and living in a difficult world, yet with his usual optimistic outlook.
“The state of the world, yes, it’s a very stressful thing,” said Franti. “People get up and go on their computer or iPhone and read about all the horrible things that happened around the world. It is tough for people not to lose faith, not to struggle with that desire to contribute to the greater good. I’m also working on a documentary which traces my personal journey through music, in following the messages of my heroes like Bob Marley, John Lennon, Stevie Wonder and the Clash. They meant so much to me in guiding me to find my own political voice. And after 25 years of writing songs and hoping to see some changes, it is sometimes hard to see results. The film follows three ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things to make positive changes happen.”
Franti, who recalls his performance at the Life Is Good Festival in Canton a couple years ago with fondness, said he always enjoys Boston-area shows.
“I have tons of family in Saugus, Lynn, Revere,” said Franti. “I think the last time I played the House of Blues, I ended up playing my guitar on the balcony, visiting with folks up there. But Saturday’s show will include quite a few of the new songs, so I hope the fans will like them.”