Taken from San Antonio Express (February 06, 2004)
Listen, Franti's got a real message to deliver
San Antonio Express-News
by Jim Beal Jr.
Despite what you might have heard and seen during, say, the Super Bowl halftime show, there are artists putting together words and music that stride far beyond lowest-common-denominator clatter and clutter. One is songwriter and singer Michael Franti, who with his band, Spearhead , fuses intelligent, insightful words that can by turns incite and inspire, with music that draws from hip-hop, soul, rock, R&B, reggae and more.
"I think that listening is the greatest form of respect you can pay anybody in this time of so much bombardment of information," Franti said. "It's difficult to get people's attention. As a songwriter, I spend a great deal of time thinking about people like Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye and other greats whose music didn't add clutter to the world; people whose work added interest, not clutter."
Franti (vocals, guitar) and Spearhead - Carl Young (bass), Dave Shul (guitar), Mannas Itiene (drums), Robert Quintana (percussion) and Anthony Robustelli (keyboards) - are touring with the Boo Boo Wax/iMusic CD "Everyone Deserves Music."
The tour is set to stop at Sunset Station, 1174 E. Commerce St. , on Tuesday. Ziggy Marley, son of reggae legend Bob Marley, is headlining. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Franti was raised in Oakland, an area that has produced an array of music-makers known for mixing social consciousness with eclectic music.
"I grew up in a musical family. Everybody played instruments but me. I played basketball," Franti said with a laugh. "I took one piano lesson. I regret that. I don't regret playing basketball, because I still play. But I regret not studying music.
"When I was about 17, I went to a very small reggae show. I won tickets on the radio. The artist was Linton Kwesi Johnson. He did a poem called 'Sonny's Lettah .' Then he kicked in with the band doing the same poem. I thought, 'Wow, this is music that's changing my life right here and right now.' I don't know if music can change the world overnight, but I do know it can change a life in a night."
Not long after, Franti put together the Beatnigs , a group that channeled anger and protest into a black industrial-meets-punk sound. Franti and Beatnig member Rono Tse then put together Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy with guitar wizard Charlie Hunter. Disposable made waves via its beat-driven socio-political commentary.
The album "Hipocrisy is the Greatest Luxury" was so strong, it led to a tour with U2 and "Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales," a collaboration with poet/Beat icon William S. Burroughs . In the mid-'90s, Franti formed Spearhead and the anger evolved into conviction, the music into a softer-edged amalgam.
"Being from the Oakland/San Francisco area had a profound impact on my life as a musician," Franti said. "It's a hotbed for new ideas. Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Sly & the Family Stone, Tower of Power, the hip-hop of today, came from here. There's always been a spirit of mixing cultural ideas in music. And people have a history of being upfront about the spiritual and the community aspects of music. The community supports that. It's not unusual to find a salsa band sharing a bill with a rock band and a hip-hop headliner."
Like Franti, the members of Spearhead have eclectic r?sum?s. Nigerian drummer Etiene has worked with the Mandators , Sister Carol and other reggae aces. Guitarist Shul has been a music educator and a solo artist and is collaborating with Narada Michael Walden.
Bassist Young has backed Cree Summer, Don Cherry, De Barge and many others. Percussionist Quintana's credits show work with Cal Tjader , Indigo Girls, Los Mocosos and others. Robustelli, the new guy, has turned in stints with Kelly Price, Bo Diddley and the Jungle Brothers.
"Rhythmically, we all come from a hip-hop background, but we all enjoy different types of music," Franti said. "I guess our music could be called conscious soul music. A lot of people have said things through soul-based music, Stevie Wonder, Sly, Curtis Mayfield, the Temptations, and others."
The songs on "Everyone Deserves Music" sound great, including the title track, two excellent versions of "Bomb the World" (including one co-produced by the legendary reggae rhythm section of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare), "We Don't Stop," "Pray for Grace" and "Love Invincible."
"We try to make records that are listenable from start to finish," Franti said. "Live, it's a whole different thing. We don't just reproduce the record. There are six of us on stage and we try to feature the talent of all six of us. We change up the set list every night. We also allow audio taping and videotaping at the shows."
The taping policy, pioneered by the Grateful Dead, another San Francisco Bay Area crew, has helped Franti & Spearhead build a grass-roots audience.
"We've had a very, very loyal fan base," Franti added. "I've done this long enough to feel that what I do has value. That value doesn't increase or lessen according to album sales. I released my first album in 1987. I'm happy doing what I'm doing. Every year the audience has increased. I'm less concerned with chart hits and more concerned with putting on great shows until I'm John Lee Hooker's age."