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Taken from JamBase (July 23, 2004)

Michael Franti by Anton Corbijn
JamBase | FRANTI IN IRAQ :: Everyone Deserves Music

by Ed Decker
JamBase | California

"I wanna rock with punks because I love punk rock
I wanna rock with the heads because I love hip hop
I wanna rock my beats all around the block
If I was in Baghdad then I would rock Iraq."

"We Don't Stop" - Michael Franti and Spearhead

So go the lyrics on the second track of Spearhead's most recent release, Everyone Deserves Music. It was, as it turned out, more a premonition than lyric because this past June--about a year after Everyone Deserves Music was released--singer/songwriter Michael Franti did go to Iraq and apparently he rocked it quite well.

"I didn't go there with the U.S.O," Franti told me over the phone. "I didn't go there with any non-governmental organizations. I went as a tourist and a musician and played my guitar. I played in hospitals for kids who had their limbs blown off. I played at people's homes who invited me in off the street. I played for off-duty soldiers in their bar. I played for on-duty soldiers on the street who just wanted to hear a song for a moment... Sometimes I'd just strum down the road and [an Iraqi] would say, 'Come into our house.' Then they would show me where they hid during the bombings and I would play my music for them."

"Everyone deserves music, sweet music/Even your worst enemies, Lord, they deserve music."

"That song is about compassion," said Franti. "It's about the fact that music is a healing power in the world... And in Iraq, I found that to be really true; that when you pick up your guitar and start singing, it doesn't matter who is in front of you. They're willing to put down their rifle for five minutes and listen."

"So I'll pray for them and I'll play for them because everyone deserves music, sweet music."

"A lot of the songs I sing are inspirational songs about tenacity and endurance and love. But I play a lot of political tunes also. Many are openly against the war. But I never censored myself when playing for the troops. Before I started, I would say, 'You might not agree with everything I sing, but I want you to know--I'm here because I just want to be with you guys.' Then I'd sing 'Bomb the World' and that was frightening because I didn't know how they would react."

"We can chase down all our enemies/Bring them to their knees/We can bomb the world to pieces/But we can't bomb them into peace."

"After I sang that song to (the soldiers)," explained Franti, "I spoke to them about the lyrics. There were some who straight up disagreed with the words. But they also told me they were glad that I was there to spend time with them and sing songs."

Franti told me he that while he was in Iraq, he talked up front and personal with about 40 U.S. soldiers. He asked them what they thought about the war.

"There were about two or three who said, 'I support the effort here and have supported it all along,'" said Franti. "About half said, 'I was in support of the war when we first came over but now that I see what's going on, I wish we would have used more diplomacy.' And the rest were saying, 'Fuck this war! We never should have come over to this fucking place.'"

I asked about his most frightening moment in Iraq and he described his crew's arrival into Baghdad Airport. They had flown in from Jordan over the red sand of the North Arab Desert in a twin-engine plane. At one point, a sandstorm kicked up some 20,000 feet below and they actually began to breathe sand and dust inside the plane. But that wasn't the scary part. The scary part was landing in Baghdad.

"It's not like coming into a regular airport where you take a slow, easy descent," he explained. "You can't do that because it makes you vulnerable to surface-to-air missiles and small arms attacks. We flew directly over the airport at 23,000 feet then corkscrewed into a fast dive. They use the corkscrew method because heat-seeking missiles can't turn as fast as a plane can corkscrew.

"After the plane landed," he continued, "we drove out of the airport and passed two cars that had just hit a landmine and were burning on the road. Eight people, including two U.S. soldiers, were killed in that attack. It was a big wake up call."

"Why did you go to such a dangerous place at such a dangerous time?" I asked.

"Every time I hear about what's happening in the Middle East," he responded, "it's always through the eyes and voices of generals and politicians. I haven't heard about it from people on the street or the soldiers."

"What did you learn?"

Michael Franti by Tony Stack
"I learned that this war is not about oil," he answered. "It's about water. People are happy that Saddam is gone. However, no one has fresh drinking water or electricity. There is 90 percent unemployment. There are 4.5 million people and everyone has a gun... People go into their homes at 4:00 p.m. because they fear being robbed or shot. We created such a horrible nest over there and it's just ripe for corruption, robbery, rape. Every crime imaginable is happening in Iraq right now because there's no police force and everyone is in a desperate mindset."

"Do you remember," I asked, "just before the war started, when Sean Penn visited Iraq and was called a traitor for doing so? What would be your response to anyone who would criticize or question your motivation to visit Iraq?"

"I welcome it all," he replied. "I think we need a dialogue about this war and if my going over there starts one, then I'm all for it. I'm a musician. I went there to play songs, and to listen. I think it's important that we have as many people go over there and listen as much as possible, because we can't just leave it to the corporations and military leaders to tell us the whole story."

Spearhead performs Saturday July 31 at Baja Bash Music Festival on the La Jolla Indian Reservation Campground in Pauma Valley. For info visit http://www.bajabash.com/.

"We livin' in a mean time and an aggressive time a painful time, a time where cynicism rots to the vine in a time where violence blocks the summer shine."
--"Rock The Nation"
Michael Franti & Spearhead

Photo by Anton Corbijn




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