Taken from Sierra Nevada World Musical Festival (March, 2004)
SNWMF '04 PERFORMERS
by Jeff Chang
In nearly two decades in music-making, Franti has grown from a black-booted voice of youthful rage into a barefoot clarion for social justice. In 1986, Franti formed the Beatnigs, whose black industrial sound deconstructed punk,rock and Reaganism with a leather-jacketed "No!" to militarism, racism and compromise. By 1992, Franti and Beatnig member Rono Tse became the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy with multi-instrumentalist Charlie Hunter (who has since become a renowned jazz guitarist). Their album Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury delivered assaulting Public Enemy-inspired beats and rhymes, but also offered naked songs like the self-probing "Socio-Genetic Experiment" and the movement-mantric "Music and Politics". Franti toured with U2, recorded with William Burroughs, and became a protest music icon.
His next step defied expectations. In 1994, he signed to Capitol Records for his new band, Spearhead, and dove headfirst into his blackness, mixing up Mayfield and Marley, Scott-Heron and Scarface on hits like "Hole In The Bucket", "People In the Middle" and "Ganja Babe". Home and Chocolate Supa Highway sold hundreds of thousands of copies and Spearhead became a worldwide phenomenon.
But by 1999, Franti had retreated from the major-label treadmill to re-center his music and politics. He returned the following year as an organizer and cultural worker tied to the rising movements against the death penalty, the prison-industrial complex and corporate globalization, voicing his observations through his music. 2000's Stay Human, co-released on his own indie label Boo Boo Wax and Six Degrees, was a statement on justice and survival, touching on issues like media monopolization and incarceration. With songs like "Sometimes" and "Every Single Soul", Franti displayed a new side. A vulnerable, articulate and expansive voice unafraid to embrace differences and envision the possibilities of another world, but also not fearful of speaking loud and on the edge of pacifism with the clobbering beats and lyric of the song "Rock The Nation."
With the onset of family life and the climate of militarism, Franti has found a confident new voice and it shows. On songs like the simple, spare "Never Too Late", Franti reflects on fatherhood, life and untimely death in a voice supple and warm enough to carry his message. And his message now? "Half the record is songs about what's happening in the world right now, and the other half is about how we cope with it as people who are concerned about what's going on," he says. "This spectre of war, intimidation, this nation vs. the rest of the world, it wears us out. Half the record is a healthy dose of venting anger about that, and the other half is about how do we hold on to our spirituality, our community and our connectedness to each other."
Musically, Everyone Deserves Music represents the most connected, developed work he has ever done. He composed many of the songs from the guitar up, and, like fellow 21st century cultural globalists Manu Chao and Ozomatli, continues to synthesize his eclectic influences. In a departure from the noise of the Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes and the minimalism of early Spearhead, Franti's affirming lyrics are now set to appropriately swelling rock chords, while keeping a 21st century world-wise groove, nodding towards reggae,
dancehall, bossa nova, Afrobeat, and funk.. Anthems like the title track "Everyone Deserves Music", "Yes I Will" and "Bomb The World" are constructed with a nod to the '80s rock of The Clash and U2, as well as classic soul from Stax and Motown. The wicked "We Don't Stop" (featuring the Gift of Gab from Blackalicious and Spearhead's rapper/beatbox technician Radioactive) even manages to bridge the two sounds in a "Magnificent Seven" style mash-up. And on "Love Why Did You Go Away" and "What I Be", Franti's reveals an alluring, sensual singing voice. Two gems, "Pray For Grace" and "Bomb The World (Armageddon Version)"pair Franti with the reggae/funk giants Sly and Robbie (Grace Jones, Rolling Stones, Black Uhuru No Doubt), collaborations designed to move minds and bodies.Indeed, Everyone Deserves Music might be called a movement record dedicated to the preservation of "the motion of the hips." Franti's revolution has never been this funky.
Since the release of Stay Human in 2000 Michael Franti and Spearhead have toured relentlessly, headlining hundreds of shows for their legions of devoted fans as well as sharing the stage with acts as diverse as Dave Matthews, Ani Di Franco, Trey Anastasio (Phish) and KRS-One.
They continue to hit the festival circuit worldwide, in addition to producing the annual "Power to the Peaceful" festival which has drawn over 20,000 people to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco over the past four years. In both popular music and the peace movement, Franti has never been more relevant and influential than now. Lyrics from his song, "Bomb The World", written in the dark aftermath of September 11, have found their way onto protest signs and T-shirts all over the world from Los Angeles to Berlin, San Francisco Chronicle to CNN as millions have marched for peace. "You can bomb the world to pieces," he sings, "but you can't bomb it into peace."
"Right now, people ask me, 'What can one person do to change what's going on with the world?' I don't know what one person can do except to connect with other people. In doing that, each of us play our roles," he says. "My role is as a storyteller and a songwriter. I'm somebody who is trying to keep the spirits of other people up, despite all the chaos and fear around us"
-Jeff Chang, March 2003