Taken from The Regina Leader-Post (Feb 13, 2010)
Michael Franti getting some love
by Lynn Saxberg, Canwest News Service
The trail of positive energy and smiling faces that Michael Franti leaves behind him after festivals and club gigs could get a lot wider in the next couple of months.
The San Francisco-based roots-reggae activist and his band Spearhead are touring arenas with soft-rock ladies' man, John Mayer -- the gentle voice behind the hits "Waiting on the World To Change" and "Your Body is a Wonderland," while his colourful comments and penchant for Hollywood girlfriends make him a regular in the tabloid media. In other words, he's a popular guy in mainstream culture.
Franti, however, has always been more of a grassroots hero, his reputation spread through exhilarating performances over the years. But after a couple of decades of working the live-music circuit, Franti's star has been rising recently, helped along by the success of his latest album, the reggae-hip-hop-infused All Rebel Rockers. One upbeat song, "Say Hey (I Love You)" is Franti's first Top 40 single, and is included on the soundtrack to the new movie, Valentine's Day.
Still, to be thrust in front of Mayer's audience is an opportunity Franti will make the most of.
"I feel it's going to be one of the most fun tours I've ever done," says the 43-year-old dreadlocked musician." While his fans are probably aware of Mayer, Mayer's young female fans might not be aware of Spearhead and the charismatic energy of Franti. He is sure to leave them smitten.
And because it's his first arena excursion, Franti is giving serious thought to how his songs will sound in a cavernous space. "The thing is, when you're in an arena, the music really washes around," says the father of two boys. "If you do stuff that has a lot of syllables to it, you need long soaring notes and long soaring guitar parts so we've been working on that."
Franti is also planning to play new material from his forthcoming album. Recorded in Jamaica and San Francisco, The Sound of Sunshine was created to inspire people. "It's a really difficult time," Franti says. "There's so much to be worried about, frustrated about, afraid of, and I wanted to make this record be one that helped people get through tough times.
"I was just sitting one day thinking, 'Gosh, it's so good to be in the sun.' And to watch the sun go down, it's such an amazing release when you've had a difficult day. Then I was thinking, if I could turn that into sound, what would that sound like? And so that's what I'm trying to do."
According to Franti, the acoustic guitar is the key instrument in transmitting the feeling of sunshine into music.
"I wrote the songs as much as I could living in the sun somewhere, and the guitar was the instrument I had with me," he says.
The new songs are among the most danceable he's ever written, but not quite as outspoken. "They're not maybe as political as some albums I've done in the past, but they are definitely a message of community and that it takes the efforts of all of us to contribute to the betterment of the problems that we see in the world today."
It's a message that he'd like to direct to the worldwide effort to help Haiti rebuild after the earthquake. "It's a long-term commitment and it's going to take the resources of everyday people, and ideas at grassroots and co-operation of government and the abilities of the corporate world and scientists to get Haiti on its feet," he says. "It's a long road."
Franti has never been to Haiti, but recently travelled to Indonesia as part of his work with the aid and development organization, CARE. He's also been to the Middle East on his own, where he filmed a documentary that showed the power of music in bringing people together. I Know I'm Not Alone won an award in the Harlem International Film Festival, but was criticized for its simplistic treatment of the issues.
So how does Franti handle the haters?
"Well, with a smile and a listening ear," he says. "Maybe it's totally valid. I've done this for 25 years so it's not something I've jumped on. I try to do the best I can, take the music to the places I'm talking about and try to have a relationship with people.
"It's not an option just to write songs about how messed up our prison system is in America. I go into our prisons and I sing. I go in schools and sing. I travel to countries and sing. That's where I feel I make my biggest contribution: Directly to people."