Taken from Greenpeace-Berlin (March 12, 2007)
Greenpeace Berlin speaks to Michael Franti
Interview from 2006-11-29
by Greenpeace Berlin
Much has been said about your music and your work for world peace. Tell us something about your personal life. Where do you live how do you live, what does your live look like when you're not on tour?
Michael Franti interviewed
by Greenpeace Berlin
I live in san francisco, i have two sons and i love my city where i live, it's a very beatiful city. But where i live in particular has gone thru hard times in the last 20 years. When i'm at home i love to cook an i love to read an spend time in the garden.
Where do you produce your music?
Well, everywhere i go i write. So for example on the bus now on tour i have my guitar and i play and i write songs i observe things on the street and i write about my life. I write about what i see and my travels are really what inspires my music. So in the last few years one of the trips i took was to iraq and to israel and palestine. I played music on the street for people and i talked to them about their life. What's it like to live in the place where there's war all the time. From that i made a film, called "i know i'm not alone" and wrote the almost recent album which is called "yell fire".
Tell us something more about that experience. Can you sort of reconnect some of the images that still stick in your memory.
The first thing that comes to mind is just flying into bagdad. You take off on a sixten passenger airplane an you fly over the airfield in bagdad and when you get directly over the airport the pilot then goes into a nosediving and spins the plane eleven times to the ground. And the pilot says: "You know we're gona do this..." he says "...put your seat belts on and your trade table up and we're gona do this spirething to avoid a hit from a sam7 surface to air shoulderlancemissile" and i'm thinking "let's turn the plane and go". And as you land and as you leave the airport every palm tree thats around the airport is been knocked down an there is holes all over the ground where bombs have fallen and ther is cars that have been crashed. As we were leaving the airport there were two cars that were blown up and still on fire. They were on the road that was coming into the airport. That was my welcome into bagdad. and i just went and played music on the street for people an said "Tell me about your life" and i turned my videocamera on and they did take me into there homes and to the places were they hid for the time of the bombing. They take me to the hospitals and schools an i met musicians and one of the things i learned from the experience is that war doesnt just take place when the bomb goes of. The war continues for years to come as people deal with trying to put their life back together without electricity, without safe drinking water, without access to healthcare or education.
You see a quite interesting connection between peace and the environment as something that we need to safeguard...
War is an environmental issue. Its very important for people who are envolved in the green movement and in environmental awareness to speak out against what 's happening with war. Because of the result of these deplated uranium waepons that are dropped when a bomb hits and it blows up a community and the water system is polluted and just whats in the air, the toxicity happening in the air. Or in the case of the recent attack in ... isreal attacking the lebanon, where they attacked this oil hole. theirs oil all over the beaches of lebanon. War is an environmental isssue. And people who are living in war have to deal with not only the effects of killing in the war then the years to come of desease, of no access to food, no access to healthcare...
One of your big mottos is "stay human" and i find that quite nice. Do you think, from your experience - how would you say that it has changed the people in those areas? That war has changed them as humans?
Well its hard to hold on to your humanity and your dignity when theres someone who is trying to take it away from you every day. Its difficult when you are living in iraq in bagdad and as us-soldiers beating on your door with the backs of their rifles and coming in and arresting your family to hold on to your humanity. Its difficult to be a us-soldier and to do that stuff and to hold on to your humanity or to live in the gaza-strip an to live under occupation from the israelien military. Or to be israelien and living in fear everyday as i walk into my shopping mall a suicide bomber may come here - but we have to. I mean our only way to the future is for us to say: "There's something higher, there is something greater than killing, there is something greater than destroying the environment and we have to find that". And the way that i find it is through the music and to connecting to the people trough a cultural way and thats why i love music. Thas why i love to travel and to meet people. It's to feel that sense of connection.
Is that what you have brought back from that experience to your every day life or what else do you think you have brought back?
It was intersting when i was on the streets of bagdad playing music for the people i thought people would wanna hear songs speaking out against the war. But when i played these political songs they sayed no. We wanna hear songs that make us clap and laugh and dance and smile. We dont wanna just hear this political music. So thats what i would do. And when i connect to people through that way, they would open up to me. I believe that thats one of the opportunitys that we all have. If god gave us a reason for life - i dont know what that is - but i know there is an opportunity in life to learn to better get along with one another. Its to that aim that i dedicate my life.
Do you still keep in touch with some of the people that you met there?
Yeah, theres some people. One of the taxi-drivers that drove us arround in bagdad for the time that we were there. He became an election official. So he is working to try to keep the democratic process alive or to get it goung you should say. And one of the musicians in bagdad is in a heavy metal band called the black scorpions an they rehearse to the power generator. And so if you can imagine in playing this broken down amplifiers louder than the roar of the generator and they have to sing over the choke of the exhaust. And then when they brake a string they have to use these bits of telefonwire to replace the string. So i keep in touch with them, the black scorpions. We have been working on a project in america to send them musical equipment to bagdad - strings and guitars and speakers and stuff.
Many us-based artists have recently come out to protest
against political circumstances. Do you, as one of those artists, do you network on this issues or does everyone do their own thing?
Well; a combination of both. Everbody does their own thing, but every year we put on this big festival in san francisco called the "power to the peaceful festival" and a lot of artists from around the country come and perform at the festival. Its done every year on september eleven, the weekend of september eleven. We started it two years before 9/11 2001. it was a day to draw attention to the emergency status of a political prisoner named Mumia Abu Jamal. We did it on september eleven because its 911, the number that we dial when you call for an emergency and then two years later the attacks occured on september eleven and so the festival became a larger concert to call for peace and to say that we want that day to be remebered as a day not call for more war but to call for an end of all bombing. And we have hundreds of organisations, some are environmentaly focussed some are protesting the war some are working with prison issues or school issues - its a big peace concert.
Do you have a political vision for post-bush-amerika?
My political vision is not one of political parties or political leaders. Mine is one of a change of attitude in amerika. What i feel is the main problem in amerika in terms of our foreign policy is that we practice exclusivity. We believe that america can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants an doesnt have to answer to anyone else. That we can bomb other nations, that we can pollute the air that we dont have to hold our businesses acountable wen they go overseas to other countries and we need to change that attitude. We have to see ourselves as part of the world community not as the leader or the king of the world community and so thats what my goal is and i try to work with people on all political spectrums. Being on the left or the right to have that vision and also to see a vision that goes beyond just the next election but goes to fifty or a hundred years down the line. Where do we gona be as a planet? In all senses, militariticly, economicaly an environmentaly, where do we see ourselves as a planet?
If you were head of greenpeace what would you put on the agenda?
Well; for me i think that there is so many things, i find it hard to put one thing on the agenda, but for me personally: depleted uranium weapons are not beeing talked about. They should be illegal. They schould not be allowed to use. radioactive, toxic weapons on human beeings, on children. But america continues to do that. we continues to export those weapons to other nations an its time that the world says: "no" to this.
And then the other thing is that we really become serious about global warming. Not just people talking about it or debating wether it exists or not, but now having international standards for slowing this process down and helping the planet to heal herself. Those would be the two things for me and i guess the other thing is that environmental issues are in many cases issues of economics. The poorest people on the plant suffer on the worst environmental conditions. And i see that in my neighborhood "hannahs point" in san francisco we have a navy shipyard that's been closed down now but there is so much toxic waste there that my neighborhood has the highest incinest of breast cancer in the whole country because we live so close to the shipyard. So concentrating on environmental issues is also an economic issue.
What are your personal contributions to saving the environment?
The first thing is that we as a band, we've gone on a mission to green our band. and the first thing was just as simple as what we consume on the bus as we're traveling. You know, platic bottles and glas bottles and paper and on the last tour through america we started a recycling program just on the bus and making sure that everything on the bus is recycled. And changing our bus fuel in america to bio-diesel from regular diesel. Also the merchandise that we sell, making our cd-covers with hemp-paper. Also our t-shirts - making sure, that they are organicaly grown materials, produced in places that practice safe an equitable labor practices. So these are the things that we've been doing as a band.
It's quite a lot.
It's a lot but its not enough. everyday we find theres something new that we can do and how can we institute this into what we do and so hopefully it can be an example to other bands.
We vote with our dollars or euros. Everytime we spend money, we're casting a vote. So when we go into the store today, are we buying our vegetables from a local farmer or are we buying them from an organic farmer or are we buying from companies that are practicing clean pratices in the world. And then in a personal sense learning to reduce, reuse and recycle. an then in a larger sense, in a political sense voting and also raising our voices at the times in the street, becoming active and sometimes painting silly signs and marching. All these things are there to raise awareness and we dont see awareness beeing raised on the news at night, we dont see awareness being raised by the leadership of governments, usually the awareness comes from us talking about it at our dinner table or talking about it at work and then it grows from there and so: Don't ever underestimate the power of one on one communication.
Thank you very much.