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Taken from CANOE (August 29, 2004)

Michael FrantiFranti helps put the funk into folk

Michael Franti & Spearhead
Ottawa Folk Festival, Ottawa
Saturday, August 28, 2004


by ALLAN WIGNEY (Ottawa Sun)


Ominous clouds were gathering Friday night at Britannia Park

And that was just inside the head of Michael Franti.

A tireless activist, crusader and musician with impeccable credentials, the former Disposable Hero of Hiphoprisy and frontman for the soulful Spearhead had much to get off his chest about the state of his nation.

And in the grand tradition of Fela Kuti, Gil Scott-Heron and Linton Kwesi Johnson, Franti chose to deliver his message of disenchantment in a most hip-shakin' manner.

And the 6,000-strong crowd couldn't have agreed more. Especially with the hip-shakin' part.

Granted, decrying American foreign policy at a folk fest is akin to calling "Who wants chocolate?" at a Weight Watchers meeting. This ain't exactly the Republican convention.

But Franti, Radio Active and the remainder of the six-piece band delivered more than empty rhetoric. Neither did they underestimate the worldly nature of their audience. Franti, after all, spent some formative years in Canada; hence, he did not mistake us for the 51st state.

Much has been said about the decision to recruit Franti and his funky band for this year's Folk Festival. And it is encouraging to see the 11-year-old event acknowledging that folk music does not require an acoustic guitar or an audience singalong. Franti's musical musing on the sorry state of our world is surely the real folk blues.

It's also a surefire crowd-pleaser, as anyone who caught Franti's Bluesfest set last year well knows. Next year, Spearhead could easily play the Jazz Festival, and there would be no complaints here.

Wary folkies were lulled into a false sense of security early Friday evening, however, with pleasant acoustic sets from Rachael Davis and from Joel Kroeker, who crowned his set with a magnificent reading of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

Violin's Hendrix

New York's Eileen Ivers, branded with the cringe-inducing tag "the Jimi Hendrix of the violin," turned in a loud set that was nonetheless kinda, sorta traditional. Has it really been 35 years since Fairport Convention invented Celtic rock? Yes, it has. And they did it better than Ivers and her band Immigrant Soul.

Ah, but all was forgiven once Franti mounted the stage with a band bent on attaining peace by any beats necessary. The songs lit the darkness, shifting effortlessly from dub reggae to smooth soul to Afro-rock while Franti barely contained the excitement onstage and off.

And how did those in the audience accustomed to reclining to the sounds of John Prine and yesterday's headliners Arlo Guthrie and Judy Collins respond?

Audience participation, of course. In the form of shakin' those hips late into the night (by outdoor-festival standards).

Now that's folk music.

 
 

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