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Taken from Santa Cruz Sentinel (March 25, 2004)

Michael Franti stays at forefront of political upheaval


Michael FrantiHe may not be happy about it, but Michael Franti is the kind of artist who thrives in times like these.

By profession, Franti is an R&B and hip-hop performer. But he's clearly not content just churning out records and cashing paychecks.

In a genre obsessed with the notion of street-cred, Franti's music aims for a different kind of "street": Think "street marches" instead of "street crime."

Franti and his group Spearhead come to the Santa Cruz Civic tonight in a show that also features the scion of reggae's first family, Ziggy Marley. If Ziggy ever feels inadequate to the task of filling the enormous shoes of his father, Bob Marley, he could turn to Franti, who shares the elder Marley's mission to heal the world through song.

"There's a real urgency in the world right now," said Franti, who's been addressing peace and social justice issues in his music for more than a decade. "And you look to the mainstream, and what's striking is a real absence of voices."

Franti and Spearhead are still cruising in the wake of 2003's "Everyone Deserves Music," a deliciously funky sonic brew spiced with cutting political commentary and soulful clarion calls for unity following strongly in the tradition of Bob Marley and seminal jazz-man/politico Gil Scott-Heron to whom Franti is often compared. Musically, though, Spearhead drinks deeply from the tradition of Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield.

Though he may regret the divisive political tenor of the times, Franti is also clearly energized by political foment. To get a good philosophical footing, he takes a historical perspective on the times.

"One day, people are going to look back on these times - and I'm talking about all the attitudes from the war in Iraq to gay marriage - the same way that today we look back on the era of hunting whales. I think we'll look back at George Bush the way we look back now at George Wallace."

As for election forecasting, Franti is cynical about the machinations of electioneering American-style.

"I tell you what's going to happen. There's going to be some kind of strong anti-U.S. action at the Olympics this year, which Bush will use to whoop up nationalist fervor. Then somewhere around Sept. 15, he's going to pull Osama bin Laden out of some hole somewhere."

Franti has something far more fundamental in common with Bob Marley than music. Both men came from mixed-race parentage. Born of a black father and white mother (Marley had a white father and black mother), Franti grew up in Davis, the adopted son of white parents.

The current debate about gay marriage has gotten Franti thinking more and more of the concept of family lately.

"Being a person of mixed race, being adopted as I was, I've always looked at the world a bit differently. I looked at my family as my friends on the block, as coaches and teachers and concentric circles of friends that spread outward, which has allowed me to look at things at a community level.

"If Bob taught us anything, it's that we don't have to all think alike or look alike or be uniform in any way. We should just try to recognize our common humanity and try to make those circles in our lives more concentric."


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