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Michael Franti
Taken from Jam ShowBiz (July 27, 2002)
Franti fights the power
Calgary Sun

Sometimes fighting the good fight can be a lonely endeavour.

But it's one that outspoken American activist-musician Michael Franti vows to continue with his alternative soul, funk and hip hop jam act Spearhead.

In a climate, especially in his homeland, that discourages dissent and preaches vengeance, Franti's calls for compassion and understanding must make him feel like a solitary figure.

"I feel that way when I'm not at a show," says Franti, who brings Spearhead to the folk fest tomorrow night.

"But when we play at a concert and I see people in the audience who the music is resounding with I see that there's a lot of hope, and brightness and joy in the world.

"Sometimes there are some differences in opinion in which way the world should be headed, but people are definitely interested in spreading compassion."

His latest band is an extension of his early work in the '80s rock act The Beatnigs and later with early '90s hip hop group Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy.

The latter was a particularly influential act because its politics and liberal outlook went against the grain of most of what was going on in rap at the time and gave way to today's artists such as Mos Def and Jill Scott. Spearhead's latest CD, Stay Human, is an album that's concerned primarily with voicing Franti's opposition to the death penalty.

The songs are held together with a fictional story about community radio station's coverage of an activist on death row (the story echoes slightly the real-life tale of accused cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal).

It may sound like heady and heavy-handed stuff, but the fact the music of Spearhead -- the remarkably organic grooves and beats -- doesn't take a backseat to its message makes it easy to enjoy no matter what your politics.

"That's the craft of being a songwriter," Franti says, "to try and make the message that is palatable for people but is still challenging, worthy of discussion or argument.

"A lot of the people who have come before me, people like Gil Scott-Heron, Curtis Mayfield, Bob Marley ... it was always part of their music, bringing people together, challenging the system, but at the end of the day, it was still about having a good time."

As to when Franti thinks the good fight against the system will be over, and simply having a good time is all that's required of us, the artist is predictably optimistic.

"They're fighting this war with money and those of us who are on the side of peace we fight with time," Franti says.

"We just have faith that their going to run out of money before we run out of time."




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