Taken from The Arizona Republic (Jan 29, 2006)
Franti no longer an angry revolutionary, but politics still stir his music and soul
by Kerry Lengel
The Arizona Republic
Leave it to Michael Franti - the man who sings, "All the freaky people make the beauty of the world" - to fly to Baghdad and find a death-metal band and the first tattoo parlor in post-Saddam Iraq.
The Bay area musician, whose sound has evolved over 20 years from alternative rap to an unclassifiable blend of rock, funk and reggae, has never separated his artistic life from his politics or spirituality. And so his latest project, a foray into documentary filmmaking titled I Know I Am Not Alone, isn't so much a leap into a new art form as the next step in his personal journey.
"I see generals and politicians explaining every night the economics of the war and the political cost of the war, but they never mention the human cost of the war," Franti says. "So I wanted to see with my own eyes what people were enduring in war in the Middle East."
Packing up his acoustic guitar and a video camera, Franti visited not only Baghdad, but also Israel and Palestine, where he filmed his encounters with everyday people living in the shadow of violence. While he fearlessly expresses his own point of view - for example, singing to a crowd of U.S. soldiers, "You can bomb the world into pieces, but you can't bomb it into peace" - he also listens to every perspective with respect and empathy.
The result isn't necessarily expert filmmaking, but it succeeds in putting a human face on events that can seem abstract from the distance and safety of home.
Franti is holding selected screenings of the film on his current tour with his band, Spearhead, and plans to release it on DVD in June, along with a CD with the same title. It will be his first new studio album since 2003's Everyone Deserves Music, an infectious blast of feel-good vibes that epitomized his journey from angry revolutionary to an artist more complex, more introspective and spiritual.
"I realized that George Bush is probably not going to rush to Tower Records and buy my record the day it comes out and listen to it and be changed by it," Franti says. "And so for me to write songs pointing the finger at him, or whoever is the bad guy of the week, is not really going to communicate what I'm trying to communicate, which is a message of compassion, a message of tolerance.
"So that's where my music has changed. It became more melodic, I started to sing, I started to write about my spirituality, my sexuality, songs that were humorous and still remaining true to my beliefs about social justice and environmental sustainability."
Everyone Deserves Music earned strong reviews, even showing up on a few best-of-year lists. But it's onstage where Franti's full power as a musician is unleashed. His relentless energy flows straight to his fans' feet, and by the end of the show, he has given up every ounce.
While Franti names a variety of inspirations - Marvin Gaye, John Lennon, Chuck D, Johnny Cash - his stage presence resembles no one so much as his hero Bob Marley: part rebel, part priest.
"When I first heard his records, I just loved them because I could dance to them. I loved the groove. Then, as time went on, I heard the seeds that were planted in those lyrics, and they really took hold inside of me," Franti says.
"In terms of writing songs, that's what I want to do. Ultimately I would like to be somebody who helps to inspire others to change the world, or that we all could do that together. But some days I just need inspiration to get up and clean my toilet. And that's when I put those Bob Marley records on. So I want to make records that are funky and danceable and you can groove to and clean your toilet to."
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