Taken from ABC News (April 12, 2006)
Taking music to the streets of a war zone
by Callista Cooper
Performer and lead singer of Spearhead Michael Franti wanted to see the "human face" of war, so he and his guitar set off to Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territory, with a camera in tow.
(In action: Michael Franti)
I Know I'm Not Alone - a musician's journey through war in the Middle East - is the result of his travels, an award-winning documentary, which is currently showing around Australia.
Franti told the ABC's Conversation Hour that despite not being able to speak Arabic, he was able to really connect with Iraqis through his music, and it was a way to get Iraqis to speak candidly about their life since the war began.
"I would take my guitar and go stand out on a street corner, start to play until people gathered around and then I would talk to people via [his translators]."
He says he did write one song in Arabic, which proved extraordinarily popular on the streets.
"Everywhere we went people were saying this word 'habbibi' and I was saying 'what does that mean' and our driver said to me 'it means my sweetheart, my dear friend, a person that I love so much' and that's what every man says to every man they greet and every woman says to every woman, so I just wrote this song that has one word. People would clap and dance and then invite me into their homes and say 'play that hit song of yours habbibi' over and over."
He also performed for a group of around 30 US soldiers in Iraq. He says he sang a song that went "we can bomb the world into pieces but we can't bomb the world into peace".
"After that the room went completely silent and I was just waiting for a saloon fight to break out. I spoke to each guy in the room and two or three said to me 'I'm a patriot, I'm just here to do what I'm asked to do'. About half of them said 'before I came here I believed we were getting Saddam because I believed Saddam was responsible for 9/11, we were coming to get weapons of mass destruction, now I hear those things are lies, I wonder why I am here killing people'; and then the rest of them were very angry, very indignant towards the Bush administration, who said we should never have came here in the first place. More than anything else, they all universally told me they just wanted to go home, because they were trained to fight a war against an army, they weren't trained to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people and that's what they're being asked to do."
He says he met a heavy metal band, who used a generator, and had to turn the amps up louder than the generator they were using in their basement because there was no electricity, and then sing over the exhaust, and when they broke a string, they used a telephone wire and take the rubber off it and put it on their guitar as a string".
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Listen to the interview, which features three live songs.
If the embedded Player does not run (automatically) click this link:
Michael Franti in conversation with Richard Fidler - April 11, 2006