Taken from The Arizona Republic (February 05, 2004)
Michael Franti's band visits Scottsdale on Friday with Ziggy Marley
by Michael Senft
Although Michael Franti is taking a break after a hectic month of touring, it seems as if he's just returned from vacation. His band, Spearhead, which visits the Venue of Scottsdale on Friday with reggae's first son Ziggy Marley, has been doing a lot of traveling, spreading Franti's message of peace and activism in exotic locales around the globe.
"Last month we went from way up north, the farthest north in Scotland you can go, Aberdeen, to just about the farthest south you can go in the world, Tasmania, for New Year's. Then Hawaii. We ended up on a big boat sailing around in the Bahamas," the 37-year-old Franti says from his studio in San Francisco.
Wait a minute. A boat?
"It was this big package they put together called the Jam Cruise - a bunch of jam bands were on the boat, playing a couple sets each and sitting in with each other. Folks like Karl Denson, Les Claypool," Franti says. "It was really cool, except I got seasick the first day."
The jam scene has been instrumental in revitalizing Franti's career since the release of Spearhead's comeback CD, 2001's Stay Human.
"It was by chance, we got invited to a few festivals. The organizers were looking to diversify their lineups, thinking 'what hip-hop group could we get?' The word got out about what a great live band we are. Pretty soon," he says, "we're getting invited to more festivals, touring with people like String Cheese (Incident), busting rhymes with Yonder Mountain (String Band), sitting in with the Dead."
But Franti doesn't see Spearhead's place as a jam band as something new.
"We were one of the original hip-hop groups that was an actual band. And we always extended solos and improvised in concert," he says. "So you could say that even back in the early '90s, Spearhead was a hip-hop jam band."
The warm R&B and "one love" message of Spearhead's Stay Human as well as last year's Everyone Deserves Music still seem a contrast from Franti's earlier work. Franti got his start in the mid-'80s with Beatnigs, the industrial-infused, Bay area rap crew that morphed into the critically acclaimed but short-lived Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. The Disposable Heroes imploded after one album, 1992's Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury, but Franti rebounded with Spearhead, finding fleeting chart success in 1994 with the single Hole in the Bucket from Spearhead's debut, Home.
He insists that it has been a natural evolution.
"I've always been a student of music, seeking to improve how I express myself. From the Beatnigs, where we were just banging on pieces of metal without any training, through Disposable Heroes, where we learned about sampling and beat boxes and computers," Franti says. "Spearhead became a full band, with traditional instruments. Now in recent years, I've been teaching myself how to play guitar, which has opened up all sorts of new musical opportunities and ideas."
Although musically different, each of Franti's groups has been marked by his left-wing lyrics. Franti also sees devotion to live performance as a common feature throughout.
"There are all sorts of bands with hit singles that are terrible in concert. To have longevity you must be a great performer. That way, even if you didn't have a hit single every year you can still play concerts and draw crowds."
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