Taken from LiveDaily (January 16, 2009)
Interview: Michael Franti of Michael Franti & Spearhead
by Monica Cady / LiveDaily Contributor
Inspired by the promise of change that is associated with President-elect Barack Obama, Michael Franti [ tickets ], lead vocalist of funk-jam band Michael Franti & Spearhead, is offering his "Obama Song" as a free download on LiveDaily. The upbeat, celebratory "Obama Song" captures the excitement of election night and conveys a spirit of global unification to resolve issues and problems.
"I really hope that [Obama] lives up to that calling and that challenge that he set for himself--to be somebody that reaches across party lines," Franti said during an interview with LiveDaily. "Right now is a time when we really need everybody to tackle the problems that we face in the world. They're no longer just problems of the Republicans or Democrats. They are problems of climate change and the wars that we see, the economic situation--they're really issues that are not partisan issues and they're not issues for just one nation to face."
Politics have played a role in Franti's music since the late '80s, when he fronted The Beatnigs, a San Francisco-based band that blended hip-hop, punk and industrial sounds. Named an Ambassador of Peace by the World Health Organization, Franti is also the founder of Power to the Peaceful, an annual music festival established in 1999, dedicated to promoting social justice, nonviolence, coexistence and environmental sustainability. Franti's "Obama Song" simply furthers these and his countless other efforts to bring people together to help improve the quality of life worldwide.
"The reason [this song] was important for me is that, like many people around the world, the last eight years have been a very difficult time, politically," said the dreadlocked singer. "I don't like to point fingers at what has been done, but the one thing the Bush Administration did that really made me feel distant was that they were so unilateral in their decision-making. [Bush] really didn't listen to other nations, people in his own party or across party lines."
Franti spoke to LiveDaily about priorities for the Obama administration, what he learned growing up in a mixed-race family, his musical progression, upcoming tour and the expansion of Power to the Peaceful.
What do you, personally, hope to accomplish by writing "Obama Song"?
Well, the first thing is that I really just wanted to capture the spirit of when he was elected--that sense of hopefulness and elation, and this moment in time where we can say, "Yeah, let's go forward," and that spirit of "Yes we can." And, I had hoped that as time goes on, that people can refer back to this song when they feel times of despair or when they feel like, "God, I don't know if I can do it," and that it is uplifting for them. The main purpose of the song is: "Yes, we can."
What are some of the biggest changes that you hope come with the Obama presidency?
Well, the first one is definitely bipartisanship. I want to see, you know, inasmuch as I definitely have my beliefs, and would love to see the country go in the direction that I want it to go, I know that in order to really get things done in the world you need people of all political perspectives to make the changes that we need. So, bipartisanship would be the first thing.
The second thing is that we really need to address the energy crisis that we're in at the moment. From that will come an answer to resolving the conflict in Iraq, and if you resolve the conflict in Iraq, that also increases the opportunity to resolve the conflict in other parts of the Islamic world--Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan--and then if we also create sustainable energy, we also create the opportunity to solve climate change and also invest in our future. Rather than bailing out the auto industry, enabling them to continue to make cars that are totally inefficient, we invest in the future of sustainable energy and fuel efficiency.
You once referred to yourself in an interview as an "underdog." Do you identify with Obama on a more personal level?
Definitely, I mean, more than just an underdog. I'm someone who has a white mother and a black father, and so I really have experienced, you know, even though at times it doesn't feel like it, but it really is an opportunity to understand who I am from the inside out because I was always seen as a kid, maybe not always, but for white people I was viewed as a black person, and for black people I was viewed as maybe not black enough, ya know? And so, at times it felt like a burden, but it really was an opportunity for me to understand inside-out who I am as a person and be able to live my life in that way and create music from that perspective, to find happiness from that understanding. I think it has helped me to be a person that really gets along with everybody. It has also given me an opportunity to reach out to people who maybe also feel like they're an outsider.
Does Obama know that you've written this song?
People on the staff have heard it, and we're waiting to get the text sent someday saying, "Uh, we heard the song." You know, I'd really love for him to hear it. I feel like the song really captures the energy that a lot of us felt on that night when he was elected, and I'd love for him to hear that in a song. Also, just letting him know that our group and myself, we're here to do whatever we can to contribute to his efforts to bring people together.
Over the years, you've embraced a lot of different musical projects. How and why do you think your style has progressed over time?
Well, you know, I've always been somebody who had a record collection that was like an iPod. I never had just 30 heavy-metal records or 30 reggae records and that was it. I always had songs from different artists, from all different genres that I listened to, and my music is the same way. It's like, some days I'll just pick up my acoustic guitar and write a song and that's it; it's an acoustic song. Another day, I'll play with my drum machine and write a rhyme over it, and that's that song. So, we always are just drawn from different influences, but I think over time, we've created a sound that's unique to our band. I've also become more focused in my songwriting. I've always felt that through music there is an opportunity to lift people's spirits or awaken people to new ideas, to touch people in ways that they've never felt--maybe it's sadness, or maybe it's a love that they have for their girlfriend or whatever. You always have to give them something that they can sing along to, and if you can do that, then those other things fall into place a lot easier. So, that's really the goal today: to write songs that people can sing, that have meaning in the lyrics.
You've been such an inspiration to so many people. What inspires and motivates you on a daily basis?
My travels, you know, I have this book and we go to see new places. When I grew up as a kid I never thought I would leave the town I grew up in, and one of my favorite activities was to go to the library and spin the globe and we'd put our finger down and go, "Oh, what's it like? Tasmania, what's it like?" or Ethiopia. We'd make stories up about it. And now I have a chance to go to places all around the world like that. So, that's one thing. The other thing that keeps me just spiritually going is yoga and eating healthy. I realized a few years ago that if I want to do this for a long time that every night can't be a party. I take really good care of myself so I can make the party for other people. I eat really well and practice yoga every day, try to get in bed at a decent hour and get up early so that when I am in a town I can go around and visit people and see things for myself.
You went to University of San Francisco. How did that experience shape the person that you are today?
I went to study communications at USF and I was also a basketball player. My time and energy was spent playing basketball, but I had this one incredible teacher and he was a priest and he really taught me how to write and organize my thoughts. He spent a lot of time with me. Last January, he developed cancer and died very suddenly, and during the last couple of weeks of his life I'd go and visit him in the hospice and I'd bring my guitar and play these songs for him. We hadn't seen each other very much in the last 15 years, but he kept up with my career and I was so moved to see him--even in this really withered stated--mouthing some of the words to songs that I had written and I didn't even know he knew the songs. That meant so much to me that he had given me the gift of writing and that he had followed [my career], even though I didn't know he had.
What are you looking forward to most about your tour and what can fans expect to see?
Well, the thing I look forward to most is meeting people before and after the show, and also the experience, now that the record has been out a few months, to see people singing the songs. It's been really amazing to walk out on stage and the whole front row, almost everyone, will be singing every lyric to every song we played. That means a lot to me. Now, this New Year, I really feel like it's a time of change for the whole world, and it comes with this opportunity for all of us to participate in it. I want my music to be inspirational for people when they need it.
What are you future plans for your Power to the Peaceful Festival?
We're actually working on taking Power to the Peaceful to some other places. We did it in Brazil last year, and we are working with some people on bringing it to Tanzania. We just got a call from some people recently who want to bring it to New York City, so we're excited about that. We always do it as kind of a free festival, but in Brazil, we did one day that was free and one day that was paid, and we used the money to give it to groups that were working in the poorest parts of San Palo, working with kids and bringing them opportunities in music, art and culture to not have to go into the drug trade, which is really the main thing that they have. I've been really happy that it's been embraced by other countries and we're looking forward to spreading it to other places.