Taken from JamaicaObserver (Oct 10, 2008)
Michael Franti makes new fans at Red Bones
Top 40 reggae-rocker Michael Franti was in two countries at once, guitar strumming to the rhythm of his bare feet.
by Steven Jackson, Observer staff reporter
He jumped on a Kingston stage with mangled dreads chanting 'Say Hey'; then did it again on a pre-recorded US late night show with his band Spearhead.
"I don't want to write a love song for the world," he rapped both times peering into the eyes of Cherine Anderson. "I just want to write a song about a boy and a girl."
He played one song on TV but a full acoustic set at Red Bones in Kingston, including three encores. It's promotion for his new album All Rebel Rockers which hit the top 40 charts in the US. It was produced by Sly & Robbie, with Anderson singing on three tracks.
At Red Bones, Franti was a walking band. His simple (1-4-5) progressions were dynamic with full choruses and humble verse riffs. A microphone amplified his foot taps that formed the rhythm section.
"Tell me lies/when I can't bear the truth," he sang with delta-blues fingerpicking - the high-E ringing hard against the guitar. He did similar fingerpicking in Hey World (Don't give up version). "All the kids that used to come to run here /load the guns here..tell me why there's child soldiers/tell me why they closed the border."
This song sounds like it always existed, floating out there...but Franti caught it first. It is a long question about global suffering. In it he sings, no rapping or chanting. "Tell me why/all the birds they used to come to fly here/come to die here," he sang.
Franti is a cross between Mutabaruka and Ben Harper. He keeps his feet close to the ground (literally) and his lyrics closer to the heart.
Franti is famously unknown in Jamaica but wants respect from the Motherland of Reggae. Local respect tends to lead to greater international sales for overseas reggae artistes. He has been increasing visibility. Look around, his face is plastered on Kingston telephone poles in the hallelujah colours of Rastafari. You may have heard him on radio or seen one of his new videos.
"Most of the videos were made in Jamaica," Franti told Splash before his performance. "We did five videos and Ras Kassa directed three of them."
Some of the songs on the album were influenced by his journey to the Middle East, speaking to war victims. "So I took my guitar and a video camera and played music on the streets of Baghdad. After I spent time in Baghdad, I went to Israel and Palestine and talked to people on both sides of the conflict. I remember sitting in the living room with an Israeli mother who lost her son in the conflict and she had invited a Palestinian woman who had lost her sister in the conflict," he said. "And they told me, 'We don't want the death of our children to be used as a cry for more war; we want the death of our children to be used as an end to all war."'
On that day, Franti wrote Nobody Right, Nobody Wrong: "We living in a great big fight but when it's done/nobody right nobody wrong."
In playing this song, he played a three-chord progression with signature pull-offs and fingerpicking. Anderson doubled his voice for the chorus.
"We have been on the road for three weeks and we are going to Australia for three more," said Anderson. "Every night I go on stage and represent for Jamaica.We played Hollywood Bowl to 17,000 people and we made an impact."
Anderson has a big voice and can deejay sort of like Tanya Stephens with lipstick.
Franti says it's a Jamaican album that almost wasn't: "I wrote all the songs but I wasn't happy at the way they were coming out productions-wise. So I called Sly & Robbie and they said, 'Why don't you come to Jamaica this time and we do it in Jamaica'. So I said 'Ok'. So we started with two or three songs and we ended up re-recording the whole record."
There were lighter moments, Anderson and music insider Tingle bubbled on stage - his True Religion jeans pressing against her from behind.