Taken from The Salt Lake Tribune (October 03, 2003)
The Salt Lake Tribune - Spearhead sets politics to music - and still finds a fan base
by Dan Nailen
After the backlash the Dixie Chicks suffered for making a basically innocuous anti-war statement in public, it is not a surprise more musicians fail to spout off on political hot topics.
Michael Franti: "People are really open to hearing ideas that aren't expressed in the mainstream media. . . . In the mainstream, we've only heard pretty much the party line."
Michael Franti of Spearhead, on the other hand, has forged a career out of mixing the political and the musical, becoming a renowned social activist in the process and making some of the most thought-provoking music around.
No matter what guise Franti has used to produce that music through the years -- the industrial crunch of the Beatnigs in the '80s, the early '90s block-rocking beats of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and now the reggae, rock and world-beat of Spearhead -- he spends his time addressing the Big Issues: homelessness, hunger, globalization, racism and the death penalty. Among Franti's projects, many found at his Web site, http://www.spearheadvibrations.com, is an annual "Power to the Peaceful" festival in his hometown of San Francisco that has drawn more than 20,000 people the past four years.
Naturally, working with an agenda keeps Franti's music off commercial radio for the most part, but Spearhead's global grassroots following is abetted with friends in high places; Spearhead has toured with such popular Spearhead fans as U2, Dave Matthews, Ani DiFranco and Indigo Girls.
Franti's latest album, "Everyone Deserves Music," is his first since 9-11 and reflects his feelings about that day, becoming a first-time father in the aftermath, and the interactions he has had touring around the world the past two years. Despite the serious subject matter, Franti and Spearhead managed to make a considerably joyful noise on "Everyone Deserves Music."
"[The songs] were pretty much all written post-9-11, and all of us had been going through a lot of pain and anger and fear and worry and confusion since that time," Franti said in an interview. "I really wanted to write songs that reflected all those feelings, but I also wanted to make an album that, at the end of the day, left you feeling inspired.
"I just spoke from the heart, because I felt all those things, too."
Songs like "What I Be" come across as personal affirmations, while others more directly address the current state of affairs in the world, whether it's the title track's refrain ("Even our worst enemies deserve music") or lyrics from "Bomb the World" that have become common lingo in the anti-war movement: "You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can't bomb it into peace."
"What I've found [on tour] is that people are really open to hearing ideas that aren't expressed in the mainstream media right now," Franti said. "In the mainstream, we've only heard pretty much the party line, and people are ready to say, 'This isn't the direction we want to be going.' Despite what the polls say.
"I go around the world and I ask, 'Who amongst us would like to have their house bombed?' I have yet to hear a 'yes' to that poll. That tells me there are more people opposed to war than in favor of it."
While Franti spends an overwhelming amount of his time addressing serious topics, and acknowledges how difficult these times can be for someone of his political views, he said he stays hopeful by keeping his sense of humor and listening to the comfort music he's always gone back to through the years: Curtis Mayfield, Bob Marley, The Clash, U2, Public Enemy.
"I have a belief that maybe we'll never live in a utopia," Franti said. "There may never be a world without war, without hunger. But it is
possible for each of us to find some heart, and share that with each other."
That, to Franti, would be one giant-yet-simple step Americans could take to make the world better.
"I was in Germany and I asked, 'How could the Holocaust happen here? Were there so many horrible people?' " Franti said. "And they said, 'No, it wasn't that there were so many horrible people here. It was that the good people were afraid to speak up.'
"And I told them, "That's kind of the way it is in America now, too.' "