Taken from Voice Online (Aug 11, 2008)
Leading the rebellion
by Davina Morris
US singer Michael Franti tells Davina Morris about spreading a message through music and practicing yoga in airports
REBELLIOUS, moving and politically charged are just a few of the ways that Michael Franti’s music has been described. Along with his band Spearhead Franti blends funk, hip-hop and reggae together with his outspoken political and progressive lyrics and has gone on to become renowned as not only a worldwide million-selling artist, but also a leader in the peace and social justice movement.
Following on fron 2006’s Yell Fire!, Franti and Spearhead are back with their new album, All Rebel Rockers and will also be in the UK this week for a series of performances. Naturally, the music is of a rebellious nature.
“I’ve always felt rebellious in my music,” said Franti over the phone from a US airport. “There was a time when rebellion was about throwing your fist in the air or throwing a brick through a window. But today– to me– rebellion is about going against the system; speaking against hatred and war and negativity and environmental destruction and trying to find solutions to those things.”
“This record is really dedicated to inspiring people in this time of crisis. Every day I pick up a newspaper, I’m like, ‘Man, this world is getting more screwed up every day.’ I wanted to make music to make people feel like keeping up the good fight.”
Well, he couldn’t have picked a better environment for musical inspiration. All Rebel Rockers was recorded in Jamaica with none other than the prolific production duo of Sly And Robbie.
“Working with Sly and Robbie is like going to the Harvard University of rhythm,” Franti laughs. “They can take any song and make it danceable. I went there and was like, ‘I want some songs to be ones you just listen to, and others to be ones that you dance to.’ Sly was like, ‘No man, every song can have a riddim!’”
“And recording in Jamaica is so different to recording in America or Europe. In America and Europe, the studio door is always sealed shut. In Jamaica, the studio door is wide open, so you get people coming in off the street to listen to what you’re doing.”
“You might get one guy who you’ve never seen before, just sitting in the corner, and he’ll be like, ‘You know in the second verse, you need another keyboard part.’ You’ll be looking at this guy, thinking, who the f*ck are you? But then you’ll listen to the track again and be like, ‘Oh s*it, he’s right!’
“Music is so much part of life out there because it’s never recorder for the iPod. It’s recorded for the sound system– to bring people together. Being out there was fantastic.”
In addition to his music, Californian-born Franti is well known for his speaking engagements at Universities, panels at W.H.O./U.N. in Geneva and his work with N.G.O.’s such as Oxfam and Amnesty Int’l.
But arguably more notable is the international message and expansion of his own Power to the Peaceful festival, which has drawn more than 50,000 people for one day to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco over the last nine years. What makes Franti such a peace crusader?
“I guess the main thing would be my upbringing. I was born to an African-American father and my mother is Irish, French and German. But I wasn’t raised by either of them, as I was given up for adoption. I was brought up in this family and for my whole life, I always felt like an outsider. That always led me to appreciate others who feel that way and to speak up for those who are under-represented.”
“I’ve been to Israel and Iraq and I’ve seen how those who start wars never fight them. That makes me really angry.”
Thankfully, Franti has a means of releasing stress and tension.
“Most of the time when I’m angry, it’s probably because I’m beating myself up about something or being very judgmental about myself. I deal with that by doing yoga. I’ve been doing it every day for the past seven years. It’s become a way of life for me. Sometimes, I even do it in the airport. I’ll just go in a corner.”
“In fact, one time– after September 11– I was practicing yoga in the corner of the airport. I looked up and saw three security guards standing over me. I think they thought I was doing some Muslim ritual! They asked me what I was doing and I just said, ‘I’m doing yoga!’ That was quite funny.”
All Rebel Rockers is out on August 18 on Anti-Records. For UK performance dates, visit www.spearheadvibrations.com