Taken from Indianapolis Music Net (March 15, 2004)
Politics and Music interface effortlessly with Franti
Interview and photos by Ryan Williams
The worlds of politics and music can often clash with embarrassing results (Toby Keith and the Dixie Chicks as the most recent examples). But Michael Franti and Spearhead seem to move effortlessly between the two realms with relative ease. The music can veer between biting criticism of economic discrimination to calls for unity and love for the power of music. This is normal for Franti - touring in an election year just makes it more interesting.
Franti began his musical career in politically charged outfits like the Beatnigs and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. The music was aggressive and angry, sometimes relying on the noise of saws on sheet metal to
combine with the sample-heavy tracks and form the chaotic backing tracks. However, he says he got tired of looking at a tiny LED screen to make his music. When he began Spearhead, this self-proclaimed student of music began looking for the next thing. "I was angry because I was powerless," he says, and his increasing involvement in social activities and causes made him feel more hopeful.
That social emphasis continued in his music. "We've heard about the political and economic costs of war, but we rarely hear about the human cost." Just as images and music changed the tide in the Vietnam War, Franti says, it can change the tide here. But he complains that the American public is not allowed to see those images. As one might suspect, Franti is not a supporter of the Bush administration. "I'm just hoping to put him on the unemployed oil baron line."
This has earned those associated with the group some unwanted attention at times, as was well-documented last year. The mother of one of the group's members (vocalist/beat box Radioactive) was questioned by Army officials after giving an interview speaking about having her daughter serve in the military while her son participated in anti-war protests. According to news reports, the officials left after showing her a list of people who had worked in Spearhead's management office and photos of her son at anti-war protests. Franti says the group had not received any further overt attention following the incident, but that other musicians and entertainers had contacted his regarding similar encounters. He thinks these type of artists receive this attention because they "bring people to an emotional place" where attitudes can be affected.
That said, Franti prefers to "make the revolution irresistible" by setting it to a dance party-type of atmosphere. "I'm a big fan of the Clash, and I loved the way they made protest music fun," he says. He says the group takes a lot of pride in what they do, and he praises individuals like bassist/vocalist Cary Young and keyboardist Anthony Robistelli for their amazing musicianship. "We've almost written the entire next album on bus, just sitting around and playing." Franti also worked with reggae and dub legends Sly and Robbie on the latest album, Everyone Deserves Music. "I'm a huge Peter Tosh fan, and these guys were his rhythm section," he says, adding that they showed him a lot of tricks for getting classic sounds in the studio.
The Indianapolis stop was a detour from their current excursion with Ziggy Marley and the Melody makers. After the tour concludes, Franti says he is organizing a trip to Iraq in June, accompanied by a film documentary crew and other musicians and social activists. Franti admits to some fear in making the journey, but adds that "if Wolf Blitzer can find a safe place over there, so can I."
Franti expressed the same opinions later during the actual performance, but the context was much different. Instead of a quiet tour bus, the promised revolutionary dance party had begun. He bounced and hurled his tall and lanky frame across the stage as the band nimbly turned from hip-hop to Latin to rock grooves without hesitation. Guitarist David Shul led the charge through many songs with a bouncy, high-energy style. Musical references varied from Sly and The Family Stone to the White Stripes, and the material was delivered with incredible stage presence and musicianship. Franti avoided tiresome speeches by working his statements in musically, and he kept in constant motion. This was the revolutionary dance party he had in mind, and the audience was enthralled. Music may not be able to change the world, but Michael Franti's seamless blend of message and music blazed a trail Sunday night.
Exclusive Michael Franti Comic Strip