Taken from Political Affairs Magazine (August, 2003)
Staying Human on the Left Coast
by Roberta Jones
Bay-area hip-hop artist and political activist Michael Franti (of Spearhead) recently put out an anti-war single titled "Bomb Da World." In this song, Franti calls on the people to rise up against the insanity of Bush's perpetual war. "Power to the peaceful people," he intones. The song is an excellent example of both the beauty and the social and humanistic significance of his music.Franti has worked closely with many political projects including the prison reform organization Critical Resistance (led by Angela Davis), the defense of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Music Bridges project in Cuba, which brings American musicians to Cuba to build international friendship. Franti speaks out frequently on the need to create jobs, education and health care, not more prisons. He stands against racism and national chauvinism. He consistently links these issues with war and violent US foreign policy. He calls for the unity of America's peoples and working class to unite against oppression and for peace and equality.
Musician Michael Franti (drawing by John Kim).
Along with his band Spearhead, Franti released his critically acclaimed album, Stay Human (Six Degrees records) in 2001. This album uniquely blends hip-hop, jazz, R&B, with reggae and smooth soulful sounds reminiscent of the early 1970s music scene. The political and social subjects of many of these songs draw the listener into another time - but not the past. It is a post-war, post-oppression future of peace and justice. This particular album, distinct from the previous Spearhead releases, combines dramatic scenarios (represented as brief radio segments) with the music to create a multi-dimensional reality for the listener. It enlists the listener in an active participation in the democratic movements and in the musical movements of the album. This album inspires and cultivates what is best about humanity as the most basic of forces against the anti-humanism of wars and warmongers.
On the racist violence and the injustices of the criminal justice system:
Oh-my, oh-my God,
Out here mama they got us livin' genocide
(Oh My God)
On one of the meanings of voice and musical expression:
I speak low but I'm like a lion roaring
Baritone like a Robeson recordin'
I'm givin' thanks for bein' human every morning...
On the current times:
We livin' in a mean time and an aggressive time
A painful time, a time where cynicism rots the vine.
(Rock the Nation)
Spearhead's musical and poetic talents and social message have gotten them a lot of attention from tens of thousands of fans around the country. But that's not all who are interested. Recently government agents harassed a relative of one of the band members, trying to discern the level of the threat to Bush's war drive Spearhead posed. This particular incident, along with other attacks on the rights of poets, musicians, artists and actors to speak out against an illegal and unnecessary war has many Americans questioning the state of democracy - a major irony, given the Bush administration's claim to be fighting in Iraq for democracy and freedom.
Franti's latest album, an acoustic recording, Songs from the Porch, can be purchased, along with the other recordings, on the Michael Franti and Spearhead website. Franti has also been featured on various albums and collections of songs, including Gascd (2002 Ram Recordings). All of these beautiful recordings are a must buy.