Taken from Jam ShowBiz (May 18, 2001)
Franti's keen on making 'revolution irresistible'
by ERROL NAZARETH
Michael Franti continues mixing music and politics, his lifelong passions.
On Stay Human, Spearhead's deeply soulful disc that is built around broadcasts from a fictitious radio station covering the looming execution of a black activist, Franti's critique is sharp.
Woody Harrelson, who plays a loathsome Southern governor on the disc, gives me chills when he calls the "station" and says, "We're gonna eliminate people who don't function within this society," before outlining the "relatively painless" means of "eliminating" them.
"It's not cruel and it makes more room in our prison system today," he says matter-of-factly.
As someone who supports the death penalty, I must confess that the final radio broadcast on Stay Human and my conversation with Franti, Spearhead's charismatic head, has me rethinking my position.
"I've always been opposed to it," Franti says from a hotel in Hollywood recently. "As a kid, I said to myself, 'What if they got the wrong guy and the wrong guy happens to be me?'
"And as a black person living in America, that's part of our experience ... being the wrong guy.
"As I've become older, I've realized it's wrong to kill," Franti adds. "It's wrong for nations to wage war against each other, and it's wrong for us to give our governments the right to kill its own citizens."
As much as Stay Human makes you ponder the death penalty, it offers a ton of sunshine. A seductive and organic blend of soul, hip-hop and funk, it's an uplifting document that assures us that the legacy of Marley and Mayfield -- two of many who made immaculate soul and actually said something at the same time -- is in good hands.
"I didn't want to write a record that was, like, 15 songs about life on death row, 'cause I thought it'd inspire people to commit suicide more than it would inspire them to fight against the death penalty," says Franti, who is himself active politically.
"I wanted to write joyful songs the same way Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Bob Marley were able to take soul music and write about very serious issues, but in a way that left you feeling inspired."
The politically articulate Franti realizes that making music that makes you move without sounding pedantic is tricky business.
"My goal is to enrage, inspire and enlighten people and I continually challenge myself to find the best way to do that," he explains. "I don't want people to say, 'Hey, your stuff is too preachy,' or 'Hey, your stuff's not potent enough.'
"You have to create music that's joyful for people to listen to while planting seeds in the lyrics."
Accomplishing this, says Franti, was Bob Marley's genius.
"When I first heard Bob Marley, I didn't understand the lyrics 'cause I couldn't get through the Jamaican accent," he explains. "But, I loved the music and after time I was able to understand the lyrics and what he was saying resonated with me so much more.
"He succeeded in doing what music can do when it's at its best, which is make the revolution irresistible."
If mixing music and politics, which Franti has done since his days with The Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy, is a challenge, consider another issue -- "staying human" -- the disc asks us to consider.
"How can we, in this crazy world where we're increasingly considered to be a number and the corporate interests are held above the interests of the people, hold on to our dignity and compassion?" Franti asks. "It's not an easy thing to do, and that's what this record's about."