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Taken from AP Wire (Sep 14, 2006)

Michael Franti inspired by close-up look at war

Associated Press

Michael Franti
Michael Franti is photographed at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco Sept. 8, 2006. Franti traveled to Baghdad and Gaza to look at the war for himself and portray it in his music. (AP Photo)
LOS ANGELES - Musician Michael Franti knew something was missing from the war coverage he saw on the nightly news.

The numbers reminded him of football scores: two car bombs, seven killed, 12 wounded. They were too simple, he thought, to convey the real human cost of the conflicts.

So Franti, 40, traveled to Iraq and Israel to see for himself. He spent a month exploring Baghdad and Gaza, meeting the locals, chatting with soldiers and jamming with musicians. He wrote a slew of songs, 14 of which are included on his new album "Yellfire."

But the experience inspired Franti beyond his usual medium of music. The singer-guitarist also expressed himself visually, directing, shooting and starring in a documentary film called "I Know I'm Not Alone." Both the album and film were released over the summer.

Franti, on an international tour with his band Spearhead, took time out to talk with The Associated Press about his trip to the Middle East and music's power to unify.

AP: What were you looking for on this trip?

Franti: I remember the devastation visiting ground zero after September 11 in New York. I remember standing there in front of these smoldering buildings and crying and being there with all these other people. And I just thought, when we go off to a nation to do air raids and bombings, what happens to the people who are there? I wanted to go there and see exactly what life was like on the ground for people.

AP: Did you go with the intention of making this film?

Franti: At first I thought I'd just post the video that I have on our Web site and just put it up there. But after we got back, we had so much footage that it became clear that we needed to make a longer style piece. Images, they do more than political arguments ever could. They really make us feel empathy for other people in these situations and it helps us to get to the point where we say, "Maybe there's another way that we can go about this." Not only with the situation in Iraq or Israel and Palestine, but future wars to come.

AP: Do you find that film and music deliver your message differently?

Franti: I always say I don't know if music can change the world overnight but I know music can help us make it through a difficult night. Sometimes that's what we need when we feel frustrated is just to make it into tomorrow. Film can work in an even more powerful way. Through film we can express ideas and show images that don't necessarily change minds, but that open minds.

AP: What was most surprising about the trip?

Franti: The most surprising thing for me was how many Iraqi people told me that they really believed George Bush when he said that (Americans) are coming to liberate. And now people are so disappointed. When Saddam (was captured) it was almost like a house fell on the wicked witch and people were like, "Thank God 30 years of tyranny is now over." But in its place came the occupation and along with the occupation came no electricity, water, food, jobs and just general safety on the street. Now people are living in such miserable conditions that they just want America to go away.

AP: What was your reception there like?

Franti: I found that music was this incredible universal language. Every time I picked up my guitar to play, it didn't matter what country the people were from, which side of the conflicts they were on, everyone wanted to hear music and everyone would then open up in a different way. For most people there I was the first American they'd ever met who wasn't carrying an M-16.

AP: How did you feel about what you saw there?

Franti: I felt angry at times. I felt like how could all this be going on and so much pain and suffering be occurring and yet we're allowing it to continue every day. At times I feel angry. I felt misunderstood and I felt sad. That's why I named the film "I Know I'm Not Alone," because as I traveled around the world and around the U.S. I realized that there are millions of people who believe that we as a nation and as a world have an opportunity to use dialogue, to use negotiation before we ever choose to use armed struggle.

AP: What was the worst part of the trip?

Franti: I guess the most difficult part for me was that it just seems like I don't have any clearer answer about where these conflicts will end than when I went there. In the Iraqi situation, it could be benefited by an international body of support with nations willing to go there to help with the human crisis that exists there, getting people back on their feet with electricity and food and water and basic essentials. That could spread a lot of goodwill there and we're in desperate need of that right now. I'm not an idealist. I don't believe that the world is ever going to live peace and love all the time. But I know that we can live in a world where we kill each other a lot less of the time, and it's to that that I dedicate all of my work.


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