Taken from Chico Enterprise Record (Nov 10, 2005)
Music Preview: Michael Franti returns to Chico for acoustic set and war-film documentary screening
by PHIL RESER - The Buzz
Michael Franti (center) hangs out with
some American servicemen in the Middle
East, where he filmed his documentary,
"I Know I'm Not Alone."(promotional photo
used with permission)
All Chico E-R photos are available here.
Michael Franti is one of the most sensitive and socially conscious musicians out there.
I spoke with the popular hip-hop artist by phone recently, about his music, political activism and his new musical film documentary.
He will return to Chico Sunday courtesy Chico State University's AS Presents.
"I feel if you are an artist, your main responsibility is to make great art but intrinsic in making that great art is to find some truth," says Franti. "It could be a spiritual, a romantic, or even a political truth, but some truth. And that's where your work should come from."
The singer-songwriter guitarist has been making music in the Bay Area since 1988, beginning with a group called The Beatnigs, and going on to form The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy in 1990 and then Spearhead in 1994.
The sound of Franti's music has shifted along with his band affiliations.
The Beatnigs were a mix of industrial music and punk rock, while Disposable Heroes with Rono Tse and jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter were hard-hitting hip-hop with poetic, political and social messages.
During that time, Franti began an affiliation with Island Records, toured with U2 and recorded with the famous poet and literary beat, William Burroughs.
In 1994, Franti signed to Capitol Records with his new band, Spearhead, but by 1999, he had retreated from the major-label treadmill to re-center his music and politics.
Since building his own Guerilla Management organization, he and Spearhead have toured relentlessly, released several CDs, as well as shared the stage with acts as diverse as Dave Matthews, Ani DiFranco, Trey Anastasio (Phish), KRS-One and Ziggy Marley.
Spearhead's music is a smooth blend of funk, jazz, hip-hop, rock and reggae.
As Franti says, "My music has always challenged the status quo both in sound and in content. And so for me it's been a journey of playing music independently and going directly to the fans by touring a lot. What that has done for me is to give gratitude for every single person who walks through the doors to one of my shows and to be thankful to every DJ in a small town that plays one of my records. I have such immense gratitude for those that have helped me along the way and it has also led to a different type of stability. My music is not judged by Billboard magazine. It's judged by its ability to touch people's souls. So, I have a different standard that I live by and it affords me a wider breadth of creative opportunity than if I was just trying to say, how am I going to compete with the beat of the week."
His music tries to spread the word about peace, love and harmony.
He says, "In order to write a good song or compelling case for social harmony you have to write about the disharmony as well. The trick is to try and find a way that's going to draw people in. You need a funky beat, a great melody or a great chorus line and if you don't have one of those things then you're going to have a really hard time convincing people that social harmony is a good thing. But if you make people dance and you can make people laugh and stir people's emotions to where they cry and feel released, then they see the virtue of us trying to create a more harmonious world."
Franti and Spearhead have a big following on the festival circuit; he also produces his own annual Power to the Peaceful festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and is planning a Stay Human festival, in a soon-to-be-announced Northern California location. It would draw families to a huge campground and stage on Memorial Day weekends, beginning in 2006.
Franti's newly produced film documentary, "I Know I'm Not Alone," chronicles his travels to the Middle East armed with an acoustic guitar and a video camera crew.
"Before I left," he says, "I was watching the news every night listening to generals and politicians explain the economic and political costs of the war in Iraq without mentioning the human cost of the war. War is about people and I was mystified by this lack of people coverage. There is, in my mind, a conspiracy in this country and with the nation's media to not allow people to see what's really happening in this war. Like in the case of Vietnam, when people really see what's happening, the appeal of war suddenly evaporates."
He says his film takes viewers on a musical journey through war, life and occupation in Iraq, Israel, Jordan and Palestinian-occupied territories.
Along the way he shares his music with families, children, doctors, musicians, soldiers and everyday people who in turn reveal to him the harsh conditions of war and occupation.
The film will be released to movie theaters in the spring, and is currently screening at a number of college campuses around the country, including Chico State on Sunday.
After the film, Franti says, he joins the audience for questions and discussion, concluding the event with a solo acoustic performance.
"I don't know if the world can ever be at peace," says Franti. "I think that it's possible to have a world that is more tolerant than it is today. I think different religious groups could come together and understand each other, different political philosophies could understand one another and the corporate and materialistic world could develop a better relationship with the natural world and our environment. All of these things are possible, and they're all definitely worth fighting for, so it's to that end, that I make my music."
Chico State University's AS Presents hosts Michael Franti at 7 p.m. Sunday in the Bell Memorial Union Auditorium. Tickets, $14 for Chico State students, $15 general admission, are available at University Box Office. Add $2 at the door. Call 898-6333.