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Taken from The Province (December 30, 2008)

Walking the walk to a better world

Franti finds the right mix and delivers with prodigious energy

by Stuart Derdeyn

Michael FrantiIN CONCERT

Michael Franti and Spearhead

Where: Vogue Theatre, 918 Granville St.

When: Tonight and tomorrow night at 8

Tickets: At Ticketmaster, Highlife

Last year, Michael Franti and Spearhead took the night off on New Year's Eve. The charismatic bandleader admits it was "seriously weird." But anyone who has seen the brilliant Bay Area quintet knows whenever and wherever it hits the stage, the energy levels are always like it's a major celebration.

All of which makes the group's two-night stand at the Vogue a big rush for fans and a must-go for those unfamiliar with his work.

From his beginnings with the noise-punk crew the Beatnigs to the lyrical genius of Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and now the deep groove soul/reggae of Spearhead, one thing has always been true of Franti's work: music & politics. He even penned a song of the same title trying to explain where he gets his intense energy and dedication to -- believe it -- peace and love. There are few artists who both talk the talk and walk the walk like this gentle giant.

"This New Year's Eve feels really like a new release because of the election," says Franti. "The hope that the Obama campaign has inspired in me and so many people is like this ray of light is there to celebrate.

"We also need to be engaged and re-dedicate ourselves to the struggle."

His personal struggle to forward the quest for renewable energy and sustainable living, as well as find solutions to poverty and violence, manifests itself in Power to the Peaceful, a free annual concert given in San Francisco with 50,000-plus attending. This year, the gig went global with shows in both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where the group shared the stage with Brazilian star Seu Jorge, among others.

"This is a different time and none of the issues facing us is limited to one geographic area anymore. From climate change to disease to the present economic meltdown, it affects all of us -- everywhere."

This universal message rings through loud and clear on All Rebel Rockers. The new Michael Franti & Spearhead album is the second that the group has recorded in Jamaica with reggae legends Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, a.k.a. Sly & Robbie. Like Bob Marley before him, Franti's music resonates out of the island and across the whole world. Working with these two groove specialists is a dream come true.

"Music is part of everything in Jamaica and when we're there in the studio, the doors are open and people are right there reacting to what we're doing before we record it. It's a great way to gauge how it's going because people are so responsive to music at every level.

"I'd go anywhere to work with those two because they are amazing at what they do. It's challenging to let someone take over your art and be able to trust them to make you fly right."

Another key factor in the powerful results is that the band is a stable unit now. From the road crew up to the management, there is a community around the musicians. It took a lot of work and changing rosters to get there.

"We went through a lot of bodies with the band, the road crew and the whole team over the years. But now we're really working in sync with the singular goal of making the most inspiring music we can make and getting it out there to the public."

That public may pine for some classics from back in the day, but Franti says that he's moving forward and playing his new songs. Although, he did play some older material recently when Warren Haynes and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones sat in for a whole set.

"It was like re-visiting old stuff with fresh eyes and amazing musicians. Maybe I could do it that way because it is, in some way, new."

New works in the planning stages include Power to the Peaceful going to Tanzania.


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