Taken from The Des Moines Register (Sep 28, 2009)
Franti: Music can change lives
by JAMES ERWIN
Michael Franti and Spearhead are
the musicians behind the upbeat
song “Say Hey.”
Since he launched his career in 1986, Michael Franti has won over audiences with his evolving hip-hop, reggae and world music as well as his earnestness. "All Rebel Rockers," his latest album with his band, Spearhead, is his most successful to date. The upbeat, joyous single "Say Hey" is perched at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. Spearhead plays tonight at Stephens Auditorium in Ames.
Franti answered a few questions last week about his growth as an artist, his previous visit to Ames (with Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy), and what concertgoers should expect at tonight's show.
Q. You performed in 1992 at the football stadium in Ames as part of U2's 'Zoo TV' tour. What was that show like? Do you remember anything specific about Ames?
A. When I think back, that tour was groundbreaking. It was the first to use widescreen video and other multimedia. At the time, we had the song, "Television, the Drug of a Nation." Bono hired the director of that song's video to do the video for Zoo TV. And the song opened the show - it was a real trip.
A funny thing about that tour is that going in, I didn't know too much about U2's music or the names of the members. A couple of weeks in, Bono pulled me aside and said, "Hey, the guitarist's name is the Edge, not Ed." I'd been saying, "Hey, great solo, Ed!"
As for Ames, I remember we were looking at a really long bus drive to get there, so Bono invited us to fly in on U2's plane. I'd bought an Ethiopian Orthodox crucifix, and I gave it to Bono. He knew immediately what it was, and he told me a story. Right after "The Joshua Tree," he went to Ethiopia, to, you know, reconnect. So he was in a village, helping to dig a well. At the end of the day, the village elders pulled him aside and said, "Even here, we know U2, we know your music. And you just cost us a day's work, watching you hack away at that well!" So Bono told me, "The elders said: 'We want you to write songs.' So I wrote songs for the village children: how to purify water, why condoms are important. Never underestimate the power of song to change lives." And that's a lesson I've taken to heart.
Q. Your music has a lot of social consciousness to it, and your early work with the Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes was really hard-hitting. Do you think that "Say Hey" is a big departure? Or is that an evolution of your music?
A. It's all part of the same continuity. If you look at "Say Hey," there's one line that's really important: "I don't want to write a love song for the world, I just want to write a song about a boy and a girl." I've spent my whole life writing songs about social issues, but at the end of the day, it's about compassion and love. It's about a world that's secure and happy, and that's part of what love is. For anyone to fall in love? Really, that is the most important thing there is, and that's what my songwriting has always been about.
Q. So do you think your music has changed, or is the audience ready for it?
A. I think it's both! As a songwriter, I understand pop better than I ever did. Can someone sing the hook? Do the lyrics work? I've listened to a lot of songwriters - Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Run-DMC - they were able to say a lot in a short time. And I also think we're living in a time of confusion and worry. People want to be inspired and uplifted.
Q. So what will the Spearhead show in Ames be like?
A. It's always a rocking dance party. We want to have a show that people can really participate in. We always bring new stuff - new interpretations of older music, new songs that aren't on any album yet. That's the most exciting part of being a musician. I wake up on the bus in the middle of the night and write new lyrics all the time. To me, there's nothing more satisfying. ... Music is much more immediate, and a song can last a lot