Taken from Boulder Weekly (Sep 30, 2004)
by Vince Darcangelo
As the leader of Spearhead and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphopracy, acclaimed musician and activist Michael Franti has built a reputation as a trusted political voice. This summer he traveled to Iraq and Israel along with a delegation of peace workers and artists. The trip was documented in a film set for release before the end of the year. Franti also made an appearance at the protests of the Republican National Convention. On Saturday, Oct. 2, Franti plays with Spearhead at Red Rocks for the Rescue at the Rocks benefit for the Denver Rescue Mission, which serves Denver's homeless community.
Boulder Weekly: When you left for your trip to the Middle East, you said you wanted to go with an open mind, an open heart and a guitar and absorb as much as you could from the experience. How did this trip affect you in a personal way and how have you taken this and transformed it into a relatable experience for your audience?
Michael Franti: Well, I really had grown tired of hearing about the war on the news every night through politicians who were talking about the economic and political cost of the war but never mentioned the human cost of the war. So I went there to try to see the war and hear about the war from teachers and taxi drivers and restaurant owners and people on the street and from soldiers. It was an eye-opening and heart-breaking and in many ways uplifting experience to see what people are going through and see the resilience that they have.
BW: What do you think is the most pressing issue as we come up on this election?
MF: On the surface it appears as though the war is the issue that's on most people's minds. If you see the campaign, it's almost like professional wrestling. It's this macho thing. this macho posturing. Really, what I think is the most pressing issue for America, and sort of by proxy the rest of the world, is how much money is being spent on the elections. When you have a half a billion dollars being spent by each candidate to be elected, that doesn't sound like an election to me. That sounds like buying your way into office. How can that be considered anything but that? As a nation we really need radical reform in terms of how people get into office. We shouldn't vote on a Tuesday night in November when it's dark by the time we get home from work. You've only got two hours to do it if you didn't go before eight in the morning when you had to drop your kids off at school. We should have elections that start on Friday and go until Sunday night or Monday morning. We should have elections like in many countries, including like Australia, where they require that everyone votes, really taking the money factor out of it.
BW: Do you think music can be a positive force as far as getting people motivated to vote and be politically active?
MF: It's something that can maybe inspire some people to vote. But I feel like most people feel so disenfranchised from it that a concert, a song, an artist going to the media and talking about the importance of voting isn't really gonna tip them as much as them feeling like their vote matters. While I'm out there every night at every show talking to people about the importance of standing up and being counted, I'm also realistic. I'll do everything I can but until people feel like their votes count we're probably not going to see huge shifts in how many people come out to vote.
BW: What would you suggest listeners do as far as an action plan to get involved and have an effect on their world?
MF: I think that the main thing is that if we look at the broad strokes of the war and the economy, it's easy for us to become very frustrated and angry and marginalized and violent. But if we look at things more in terms of how can I be of service to the planet today as an individual, we might find that there's things that we can do right in our own families and our neighborhoods that actually have a bigger effect on the immediate world that we live in than once every four years going to the polls, raising our voice, protesting a war. It's really the smaller things, like putting that can in the recycle bin, volunteering at our kids' school, smiling at our neighbors, purchasing goods from companies that have green practices and how we treat our own bodies.
BW: How important a role do you think music can play in effecting political change and raising political awareness?
MF: Music works more like raindrops than say bombs. I don't know if music will ever change the world overnight, but I know that it can help us make it through a difficult night. And sometimes that's what we need to help put out this fire that's burning. Like raindrops, it happens one drop at a time, one moment at a time. But collectively, when we all focus our squirt guns on one fire, we can try to put it out, but sometimes we're more effective squirting the flowers in our back yard. Historically, music has had a role as an inspirational force more than a political force. Songs of generations have led us through and been at the forefront of social and political change.
During my time in Iraq I really saw just how important music is in the lives of all of us. I had the experience of playing for soldiers on the front lines and then for kids in the hospital who've had their limbs blown off and for Iraqi people on the street. What was really important in all the situations was not the lyrics and the melody of the songs but that we had come together to share in a time when we were in pain. That's why God gave us music.