Taken from Eye Weekly (May 22, 1997)
Michael Franti's carrots
with Camp Lo, Coolbone
Monday, May 26. Reverb, 651 Queen W.
$15 at Rotate This, Vortex, Sonic Temple, Ticketmaster, 870-8000.
by CINDY MCGLYNN
Michael Franti probably wouldn't agree with what I'm about to say. But the brother ain't here to argue, so let me share some simple thoughts about how he's part of a small pool of talented artists who seem to have undergone a recent coming-of-something-or-other. The folks I'm thinking of -- Billy Bragg, Suzanne Vega and Franti -- have come out of various phases of adulthood, and found room in their work for the sometimes subtle and sometimes glaring changes to their politics and personas. Billy Bragg tried to wrestle back the notion of family values from the world's daspletosaurus-like right-wingers to convince them that it's really a socialist concept if you just widen your definition a bit. Suzanne Vega had a child and finally shared her woman's voice with the world. Michael Franti, the former Beatnig and Disposable Hero of Hiphoprisy, chilled, got out of our faces and switched his approach from instruction to seduction.
The only reason Franti wouldn't agree with my observation is because it implies maturity, and he'd rather make a joke at his own expense. An hour of witty, lucid and thoroughly enjoyable conversation proved he's not only less intense than you might have thought, he's also lots funnier. "I don't think it's maturity talking. Maybe getting older, but not maturity," deadpans Franti, commenting on the switch from the aggressive, active politics of his former bands to the still political but far more gentle, soulful and groovier rhythms of Spearhead.
He's interrupted by the hotel room phone, but the show continues.
"Hi, This is Paula Abdul speaking," Franti says. "Oooooh, Michael Jackson. I loved your last album, too. Well, it was nice talking to you too. I'll see you at your concert."
Franti patiently awaits his room service carrots, which are eventually consumed by the 6-foot-6 former college ball player with a delicacy to which the tiniest bunny couldn't aspire. He proceeds to offer his thoughts about the musical evolution resulting in the soul-reggae-rap fusion of Spearhead. "I think that in my life... my life is chaotic. I got all kinds of things going on all the time. I'm waiting for my carrots to be delivered and Michael Jackson calls me, so you never know. I like to have music that I can listen to in my house that's going to groove me and move me and make me feel good. But then at the same time, I want that music to be invested with lyrics that are thought-provoking and soulful in the delivery. I don't want to be agitated all the time, because I feel enough agitation. I love listening to Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield because they open my heart. And when your heart is open, the words can come into you easier.
"I've dealt with political issues now for 10 years in recordings, and what I've tried to do each time is to do it in a different way. Because if you do it the same way, then people have the same reaction: "I've heard it before. Shut that mo'fucker up, I couldn't stand him the first time.' You know. So I'm always trying to find new ways of presenting it."
A wide-ranging conversation with Franti -- science, recycling, the Halifax black settlement, Biggie Smalls and Tupac -- reveals a man obviously in touch and, one suspects, very near some kinda nirvana. The strength to stay that way comes from a lot of sources, but Franti says he listens to the words of his Gramma Brown, who died recently at 96. She worked as a domestic and "wiped floors and asses for white people her entire life" and still offered her grandson the unqualified advice that everyone should "be nice to who be's nice to you."
Franti takes his work, his chats with school kids and raising his nine-year-old son seriously, and though he's got the poise, confidence, humor and diplomacy of a natural leader, he doesn't necessarily consider himself to be one.
"I consider myself to be a rapper. And a rapper is a lot of things. A rapper is a poet but also an orator. A rapper is a spokesperson, but is also a comedian... and a clown. And a businessman. And also a teacher. A storyteller. And so within all those things there is a role of leadership to be played. But it's not something I'm trying to be. I'm not trying to be a leader of a movement or anything like that. I'm just trying to put emotions in my songs, and I hope that there's a few people out there who can feel the emotions that are in there."