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Taken from The Kansas City Star (March 17, 2004)

Truth keeps Franti free


Michael FrantiBusiness is good these days for Michael Franti, which doesn't necessarily please him. It means too many people, himself included, are dissatisfied with the status quo.

A large man with a big voice, Franti is a rapper, singer, songwriter, poet, storyteller, activist and the frontman for Spearhead, a four-piece band that backs up his words with several flavors and styles of music (hip-hop, R&B, rock, Afro-Cuban funk).

Franti founded Spearhead in 1994, after folding the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, a politically charged duo that made its message its prime medium (despite the contributions of jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter). Franti has long been called the successor to musician-poet Gil Scott-Heron ("The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"), a comparison that flatters him.

However, Franti said his intent isn't necessarily to force political change or foment revolution; rather, it is to deliver his version of the truth and hope it counsels, comforts or emboldens his listeners. Anything beyond that is gravy.

"The responsibility of any artist is not necessarily to raise a voice about the political world," Franti said in a phone interview. "It's to make great art and find a truth, whether it's a political truth, a romantic truth or a spiritual or comedic truth. That's what I strive for in my music a truth. I realize it probably won't change the world, but it might help some of us get through a difficult night."

What's your sense of your own audience these days? Are they feeling alienated and in need of affirmation, or do they just want to hear some great music, dance and decompress?

So many issues today are drawing profound lines between groups of people. What I've found in traveling the country is there are as many different opinions and philosophies as there are religions and lifestyles. I think everyone should have the freedom to have their opinions and lifestyles and spiritual philosophies without having anything forced on them by others. What I've noticed is that the great thing about music is it tends to break down barriers between people and give them the opportunity to think about things and
discuss things and look at things from a different perspective. So, to answer your question, it's a little bit of both.

When the war broke out last year, there initially was a widespread chill on dissent and criticism in all forms of expression. Did you feel that at all?

Not really, because I've written about social issues since I started, so it was expected of me. But I know there was a chilling effect on the music industry and other artists.

Is a writer " a songwriter or poet " obligated to be political if he or she feels strongly about a certain issue, or is it OK to leave the politics out of the music?

I think everyone gets into music for different reasons. Some guys get into it solely because they want to get chicks, which, of all the reasons to get into music, probably isn't the worst. Some get into it because they want to get rich and retire young. And some of us do it because we're compelled to say something, and we find that music is a way of achieving that, it's a catharsis and it lets us share what we have to say with people and it helps everyone a little along the way. So I guess it depends on your motives for going into music in the first place.

How do you reconcile some of your beliefs with your practices, with having to tour through big conglomerates like Clear Channel or having to sell your records through Amazon.com and AOL/Time Warner?

It's virtually impossible to completely remove yourself from the corporate nipple these days. I made my last album on an Apple computer. Our tour bus runs on diesel fuel. We play in venues that are owned by Clear Channel. At the end of the day for me it's really mostly about getting on stage, looking into the eyes of people who are there " no matter how they got there " and communicating something to their soul. We do as much as we can to work with independent promoters, but the fact is a lot of the venues that used to be independent 15 years ago are now Clear Channel venues. Do we not go there because of that? We do the best we can.

You're on tour with Ziggy Marley. How did this collaboration come about?

Ziggy and I have been friends since we toured seven years ago. We haven't toured together since. We thought right now it'd be the perfect case of the sum being greater than the parts, you know, 1+1 = 3. When we play together it's not like there's an opening act and a headliner. There's just 3 1/2 hours of really great music. People are really loving it. It's selling out everywhere. There's no real theme. But it seems like with this being an election year and with the war going on and so much religious strife in the world, our message is really resonating this time as much as it ever has.

To reach Timothy Finn, pop music writer, call (816) 234-4781 or send e-mail to tfinn@kcstar.com


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