Taken from CANOE (Aug 27, 2004)
U.S. policy has Franti at his best
by DENIS ARMSTRONG
The war in Iraq has become a turning point for Spearhead singer and songwriter Michael Franti.
Tired of seeing the suffering second-hand, Franti, who headlines tonight's Folk Festival gig, arranged a three-week tour of the war-torn Middle East in June.
"I just wanted to play guitar for people on the street, for kids in the hospital whose legs were blown off, for soldiers on the street, restaurants or whoever would listen."
Listen they did, as audiences often do when the San Francisco native performs. Widely regarded as one of the most passionate and politically volatile singers around, Franti was the talk of the 2003 Ottawa Bluesfest.
Franti has been railing against the Bush administration since Day 1 with a couple of critically acclaimed albums, including 2003's Everyone Deserves Music and Stay Human in 2000.
With its chorus "We can bomb the world to pieces, but we can't bomb it into peace," the single Bomb the World has become an underground anti-war anthem.
If you thought he was anxiously aware of social injustices on those albums, you ain't heard nothing yet.
"I came back heartbroken," he said. "What I learned from being in the Middle East is that the United States has continued to support governments that don't support the people. Nations like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Israel represent a drifting to the radical far right.
"These impoverished nations with really oppressive regimes got that way in partnership with America. So you can see where the anger comes from."
Deeply affected by his trip, Franti has channelled much of his pain into a new album, due out in 2005. In addition, he kept a daily diary of his tour on his website (www.spearheadvibrations.com) and produced a feature length documentary of the tour.
But for all the needless misery he witnessed, Franti also experienced unbridled joy there too. "People were deeply grateful for the smallest kindness," he recalled. "I found it all inspiring so I wrote a lot while I was there. I grow emotionally when I get outside my comfort zone."
Then, in the middle of his anti-American rant, Franti has an epiphany. He traces some of his global awareness back to time spent in Canada.
"I spent a year in Edmonton when I was in Grade 9," he recalled. "The thing I learned there is that in America, we grew up thinking that what's good for America is good for the rest of the world. What I found in Edmonton is that usually what's good for America is usually crap for the rest of the world.
"My goal as a musician is to be the best communicator of social justice I can be," he said. "But part of that is to retain my sense of humour, to be a good entertainer, to make people laugh and dance and cry while constantly challenging myself and my own views of the world."