Taken from MVREMIX (April 25, 2005)
Communicating Social Justice/It's about time
by Hugo Lunny
Credible artists are hard to find. Most, when given the opportunity will sell out, why not? We all need money. Few of us actually have strong enough moral fiber to seek something better and inspire change on a global basis. Michael Franti however has. After beginning his musical career frustrated and angry, he moved onto more uplifting, sensual and happy material and travels the globe routinely performing in a unique manner drawing together all audiences he performs before.
Franti visited Iraq last year and also explored Israel and Palestine. His findings drove him to create the forthcoming documentary "I Know I'm Not Alone," detailing what has gone on and is occurring within these ignored and inaccurately portrayed areas.
MVRemix: The last time I saw you perform was when you were in Vancouver at the end of October. You spoke out how you were confident that Bush wasn't going to be re-elected. How do you feel since his re-instatement?
Michael Franti: I suppose not very confident. [chuckles]
MVRemix: What are your feelings about what has been going on in the past few months?
Michael Franti: I feel like this journey that we're on to de-militarize our nation - when I speak of that I speak of those of us who are opposed to war and are opposed to Bush's agenda... The long haul. I don't feel like we necessarily lost a huge battle by not electing John Kerry. I feel like even if Kerry was in office he would still be shouting the same things that Bush was in a kinder and gentler way. The only way things are going to change - having my own experience of Iraq and the Middle East is when things get so bad that everybody says they can't continue. The Vietnam war didn't end until 50,000 Americans were killed and I'm hoping that we don't have to get to that point before we see the death of 175,000 Iraqi civilians.
MVRemix: Who conceived the idea for the documentary "I Know I'm Not Alone"?
Michael Franti: I was sitting in a tour bus one day with my friend Doug, and he said as a sweet question but he said "What do you wanna be when you grow up?" After a couple of days of thinking about it, I came back to him and I said "I'd like to be the best communicator of social justice that I can be." He said "Well, what does that mean?" And I said "It means being a skilled songwriter, putting the band first always and going and seeing places firsthand, that I would then write songs about."
"If I gave you a plane ticket and you had to do was fill in the name of the city, where would you go?"
And I just blurted out "Bahgdad."
So I talked to my manager Catherine and I just went. It wasn't with any intentions, we just did a couple of benefit concerts and were just gonna raise some money.
MVRemix: Did the whole group head over?
Michael Franti: No, I asked the whole group if they wanted to come. But nobody felt really the passion that it was worth taking the risks.
MVRemix: How long in total did your stay last over there?
Michael Franti: I was there for two weeks in the Middle East; traveling between Jordan, Iraq, Israel and Palestine.
MVRemix: The version you showed at Slamdance was dubbed as a "work-in-progress," is the documentary now finished and if so how does it differ with what was shown?
Michael Franti: When I was in Israel and Palestine, I really spent most of my time in Gaza and the West Bank. I guess the best way to describe it is that Israel is very much the first world and Gaza and the West Bank are very much the third world. They have the fourth largest military in the world which is Israel controlling a civilian and refugee population in Palestine. And so I spent most of my time there hearing the perspective of Palestinian people and their hardship - what it's like to go through and deal with checkpoints everyday, where you wait hours in the hot sun just to travel five blocks
MVRemix: Was that this past February you're referring to?
Michael Franti: Yes, just last month.
MVRemix: So was that also filmed?
Michael Franti: Yeah, and that's what we're including in the film now. I just felt like it was important in bringing up the issue of the conflict that we filmed both Palestinian voices and Israeli voices. The film that we'd cut before was mainly Palestinian voices.
MVRemix: What is it that you wish for audiences that will see the final documentary to take from it?
Michael Franti: The main thing is the human side of war. What makes up the human side; the human cost of war. Just how much people suffer in the things we look at in the paper. When I was in Gaza, I was struck by the fact that anything that happened in the neighbourhood that I was in is front-page headlines. This is one of the poorest neighbourhoods I've ever been in. Even though it makes front-page headlines, we never hear the voices of those who are effected by it. I want people to see the human side of things and also I really want to show the power of music. Not specifically my music, but the power of music in each of our lives to help us get through difficult times.
MVRemix: Which documentaries or pieces inspired you to actually create this?
Michael Franti: I've seen very few documentaries, but as a kid I was a film freak. I would go to the theatre on Saturday and go to the cheap show - I would see every movie that would come out and I'm still very fanatical about film. I love the cinema. I love the smell of popcorn. It really wasn't about the documentary to me, it was really about the experience of being in a theatre and being transported to a different world through sights and through music. The films that have always sat with me the longest and struck me the most were the films that were about real things. When I'd see something really incredible in a film and the end would say it was based on somebody... on a true story.
MVRemix: Over your career, who've you enjoyed meeting the most and who has shocked you the most upon first impressions?
Michael Franti: I think Fidel Castro. I was in Cuba and we did a big show with a bunch of American and European artists collaborating with a group of Cuban artists. It was right at the time where US started bombing Kosovo. I decided I would have to emcee the show and at a certain point I decided... I said it in Spanish, but I said the American people who brought us here asked us to not say anything political when we're on stage. It's just supposed to be this friendship thing. I've always been a political artist so I can't not speak about what's happening. I said "I hope that the conflict between the US and Cuba doesn't end the same way that what's happening in Kosovo" and the crowd stood up and cheered. Afterwards, we invited in the middle of the night to this thing none of us expected to be at with Fidel.
MVRemix: Moving onto a lighter note, which artists inspired your stage show?
Michael Franti: Fishbone, Janes Addiction, The Clash, Public Enemy... I used to work in a nightclub before I played music. So when I was just started I saw The Flaming Lips, R.E.M., Gang Starr, X-Clan... Really what I saw was the bands that were able to connect with the audience versus the bands, which just had hits. Sometimes they'd be really anticipating a great show and they'd come in there and see that the audience was standing still. Then other times, like first time I saw Sonic Youth - I was like "Who are these guys?" Then I saw their live show and I was totally blown away.
MVRemix: Tell me a little about Australia's "Love Kamikaze"?
Michael Franti: In 1998 I started recording songs that became the album "Stay Human," but that album was a very political record about the death penalty and about the shutting down of pirate radio stations in America. By the end of it, I had written a bunch of love songs or songs about sex and love and I felt they didn't fit in with the context of the "Stay Human" album. So I just put them away. Recently I went through cleaning out my studio and was playing old demos and old cassettes and stuff and I heard a batch of those songs. I was playing them for people and thought "That's a great record." We just collected a couple of remixes and a bunch of songs that were about sex and love and made this album. All the songs are a very dance orientated groove - a kind of funky record.
MVRemix: What's currently going on with regards to the new Spearhead album?
Michael Franti: We've been in the studio. In February we spent about two weeks in Jamaica recording a Drum N' Bass track with Sly & Robbie. Now we're in San Francisco and we're doing the keyboards, the guitars and the vocals. We'll have it in the can by the end of April, it'll come out in August.
MVRemix: Have fun with this one, a la "Fight Club," "If you could fight any celebrity, who would you fight?"
Michael Franti: I think I'd fight Lee Perry.
MVRemix: Any particular reason?
Michael Franti: Because it would be an interesting fight. I can't imagine it being a fistfight. It would be some kind of fight on a different level, like an astro-fight. A spiritual joust!
MVRemix: Now would you win?
Michael Franti: I'm quite certain I'd be slain. I'd be the dragon and he'd slay me.
MVRemix: Aside from the documentary and the Spearhead album, are there any other projects you're working on?
Michael Franti: Those are pretty much it. At the moment we're just sitting down to watch a version of the film which is just the Baghdad portion of the movie. We're considering putting out two films. One about Baghdad and one about the Israeli-Palestinian concept. Right now we're watching a cut that we did about Baghdad that we extended and included more footage in. There could be two films. I wrote thirty songs while I was there and when I came back. Twelve will go on this next album and we'll probably just keep recording and have another album ready to go after that.
MVRemix: Do you have any last words?
Michael Franti: [ponders] I believe that music is a gift that was given to us so that if one person hears a drummer playing a drum in the distance, they'll run to them and maybe the two of them will come together and the person listening might clap hands. Then the power of the two people coming together is greater than the drummer sitting alone and playing. Because of that, I still really believe in the goddess of music. We should be observant of that and that file sharing and trading music online is a very important thing for us to have that opportunity.