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Taken from ABC: 7.30 Report (April 17, 2006)

Guitar mightier than the sword

by Mick Bunworth

Michael FrantiMAXINE McKEW: If the pen is meant to be mightier than the sword, then what about the guitar? When American musician Michael Franti embarked on a journey through some of the Middle East's conflict-riddled and most dangerous neighbourhoods, he was armed with just a folk guitar and a video camera to record the experience for posterity. The result is his first documentary I Know I'm Not Alone and it recently opened across Australia. Mick Bunworth caught up with Michael Franti in Melbourne.

MICHAEL FRANTI SINGS: Every time I read the news I'm more confused...

MICHAEL FRANTI: I didn't really set out to make a film. I was just, like a lot of people, curious about the effects of the war.

MICHAEL FRANTI: How many died today, how many lost their homes...

MICHAEL FRANTI: Every night on the news we hear about the political cost of the war, but we never see or hear the voices of the people affected by it the most.

MICK BUNWORTH: Michael Franti has always been an artist with lots to say. But his latest project sees him handing the microphone to others.

IRAQI MAN #1: I wish to see a secure Iraq, a peaceful Iraq.

IRAQI WOMAN: For what are we fighting? For nothing. For the benefit of a little percentage of people who are very rich and powerful.

IRAQI MAN #2: I'll offer the rest of my life just to sit next to a lake or something for this enjoying the fresh air. That's all.

MICK BUNWORTH: Michael Franti's film, I Know I'm Not Alone, charts his journey in 2004 through Baghdad, Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, carrying little more than a guitar and a desire to meet people and document their experience. He overcomes the language barrier by writing a song with a single Arabic lyric, "Habibi", which translates to "Dear friend".

MICHAEL FRANTI: The second I started singing the song it was like magic. People would start opening their doors to me. People started inviting me into places that I had no access to go to before.

MICK BUNWORTH: During his visit to Baghdad, Michael Franti - an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq - played a gig for some US soldiers, an experience he spoke about after his film's Australian premiere.

MICHAEL FRANTI: And I walk into this room and there's this barful of guys holding an M16 in one hand and they've got a beer on the counter in front of them. I'm like, "Hey, I'm here with my wooden folk guitar to sing about peace and love." Thanks for having me here tonight. And I just wanted to come over here and see what you all are going through and I hope that you all make it home safe.

MICHAEL FRANTI SINGS: Please tell me the reason behind the colours that you fly. The love of just one nation in the whole world we divide...

MICHAEL FRANTI: I got up the courage to sing the song 'Behind the World'. What then happened is the whole room went silent and I was waiting for a bar stool to come, but what happened is I spoke to each of the guys in the room and all of them said to me more than anything else, I just want to go home. Because we were trained to fight a war against a military and we did that, and we were successful. But we're not trained to fight a war for the hearts and minds of Iraqi people.

MICK BUNWORTH: And while the Iraqis Michael Franti meets oppose the continued presence of US troops, they're embracing the freedom of the post-Saddam era. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the rehearsal room of the heavy metal band The Black Scorpions.

MICHAEL FRANTI: We have just put the word out that we wanted to meet musicians of all types. When I was thinking I was going to meet musicians I was thinking traditional Arabic instruments and singing. When I heard from one of the women who was on the trip with us that she knew of somebody who knew a heavy metal band and we could get an introduction. I was like, "This is too bizarre to be true, I've got to see this. "

MICK BUNWORTH: Michael Franti's anti-war stance saw some label him unpatriotic during his last tour of the United States. Something he learnt to deal with in his own inimitable good-humoured way.

MICHAEL FRANTI: Some people places where I went to people were very receptive to what I had to say and there were other places where people booed me on the stage. So this is a song which is about coming to grips with that.

MICHAEL FRANTI SINGS: I don't get to play in Texas very often. I don't get to play in Texas very often, but the times I did, I kind of liked it down there.

MICK BUNWORTH: For this troubadour turned film-maker, peace is possible and that's a song he intends to singing for some time yet.

MICHAEL FRANTI: I'm not a person so naive to think that a person with a guitar can solve the Middle East crisis. But I do know there's a willingness on both sides for that to happen.

MICHAEL FRANTI SINGS: The stars shine brightest in the darkest hour. So you know you're not alone.

MAXINE McKEW: The least favourite balladier in Texas.


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