Michael Franti has been many things since he launched his musical career in 1986 as part of the industrial punk band The Beatnigs. He’s been a composer, musician, poet, activist, healer and most recently a yoga retreat owner, all the while conveying his message of communicating hope and unity throughout the world. It’s not always accepted for a musician to mix social issues with festive music, but on his latest album with Spearhead, The Sound of Sunshine, Franti has upped the ante on his brand of globally grooved hip hop, by complementing his message with more effervescent tones on “Shake It” and “The Thing That Gets Me Through.” On his latest video “I’ll Be Waiting,” he hits a chord on the theme of compassion that speaks to the heart.
Prior to heading to Australia for some spring shows, Glide's Annie Percival had a chance to speak with Franti about some thought provoking issues, and the peacemaker opened up on a deeper level.
I noticed that there was a transition in your lyrics between the album Stay Human where you express some frustration and a bit of anger to The Sound of Sunshine where there is a more peaceful message of love and emotional harmony. What is the catalyst for making that shift – was there an epiphany?
I think just as I get wiser and learn more about myself, I’m able to express emotions better you know? Sometimes when you are a kid you get pissed off and you get angry, but really you’re just fighting your sadness or you’re fighting your jealousy or you’re fighting something else. And as I’ve grown older I try to really express all those things in my lyrics, and I went to Iraq in 2004 and played music on the street there for people. I thought that people there would want to hear songs speaking out against the war, but what happened was the exact opposite. People said to me, and I’m talking about Iraqi civilians, “we don’t want to hear songs about war, we want to hear songs that makes us laugh and dance and sing and clap our hands.” And it really made me think about music differently – that we didn’t have to write songs all the time that were just about the politics of the mind, but that it’s more important to write songs about emotions.
I’m pleased that you are consciously participating in your own awareness and in your own awakening and understand and this love that is expressed. In your video “I’ll Be Waiting” is pure and almost palpable and your intention in this video is very clear and your message is simple because you allow a higher consciousness to show like kindness and compassion. So how has this perception of kindness and compassion kept you grounded times of turmoil in the world?
Well the song “I’ll Be Waiting” is a song that I wrote after my appendix had ruptured and I had almost died and I was so grateful to be alive. That same week my song “Say Hey,” went into the Top 20 and we’ve never had a song in the Top 20 before. Maybe if I wasn’t on my deathbed it would have been a great moment of celebration.
Well your video is very touching and the rest of your songs on The Sound of Sunshine encourage us to not anticipate life, but instead participate in life. And your words release some anxiety for love, kindness and hope to emerge. And I know you can feel a general consensus throughout the rest of the world that your message is coming across clean and clear. Has there been a memorable experience that you’ve had during this tour that stood out and really touched your heart?
Last summer I was invited to play at this country music festival and it was on a cruise ship. And it was like; wow we certainly don’t play country music, but assuming they are inviting us I’d love to go because it’s just a new experience. So we went on this boat and a woman came up to me and she said hey “you’re in the band that sings ‘I love you’ right?” I go, “yeah.”
She goes, “well I work for a weapons manufacturer and I’ve gone online and I’ve googled all about you and I was like oh great, I’m this peacemaker and this lady from this weapons manufacturer company is going to tell me off something. And she said, “you know, I saw after you came back from Iraq you started going to visit veterans who had lost limbs and I was so moved by that. So I went to the board of our company and I said, ‘here’s this artist who is against the war and he’s doing this with veterans. And here we are this company who makes tons of money off war and we’re not doing anything.”
And so she convinced the people on this board to start this fund to support wounded veterans. And I was really moved by that. It was like all the songs that I have written that were about politics and expressing my views or whatever, it was this one little happy love song that really made a significant change.
I noticed in the song “I’ll Be Waiting,” that your words are empowering people’s self-worth and meaning in life. And you see people not walking around asleep anymore and they are allowing their worries to dissolve and they are working up to the path of the true nature of what’s important in life which is the things in life that are not “things.” So in what ways would you like to see yourself and your music evolve from here on out?
I’d like to see my music continue to deepen as I grow as a person. But I also want to see my music become stronger on the dance floor. I want it to be stronger melodically where people can sing along to it in countries where they don’t speak English as a first language. I’m striving to find ways to communicate this message that I have of hope and unity and music crossing borders, so that’s where all my efforts go.
On The Sound of Sunshine, your words clearly exude a heartfelt vulnerability. Was there a spiritual or emotional healing in your own life that you had to evolve from to get to where you are now?
When I was born I was given up for adoption and my birth mother is Irish, French and German and my birth father is African American and Native American/Seminole Indian and I was adopted by this family who are Finnish Americans and they had three kids of their own and they adopted me and another African American son. And when I was growing up, my mother, she was very tough and very loving and she insisted that all five kids in her house be treated the same way. And she always said her goal was to give each of us “wings” and then we can chart our own course and make our own decisions and have our own lives. So that’s really where my compassion comes from – that I had this unique family situation that I grew up in, but at the same time I felt alone a lot. I felt like, wow somewhere is this birth family and I don’t even know them.”
So I always empathized with other people who felt lonely, who felt left out, who felt different, or weren’t pretty enough or strong enough. So that’s what my music is written for, it’s from that experience that I write for other people.
I really appreciate the compassion and responsibility you demonstrate for human rights, your charity Soles4Souls, and in 2005 you performed at a maximum security prison which had such an overwhelming response. So this path you took in being a conduit a peace is recognized and you are shifting the collective consciousness. When you’re back home in California, how do you remind yourself of your own message in regards to spats of frustration and anger?
Well I have a 12 year old who reminds me. (laughs) I have a great girlfriend, I love to cook and all our music I record in my bedroom, that’s where we are right now recording and it’s a really personal experience for me. I love to be in my house, cooking, hanging out and making music. It’s a really beautiful life that I have. Just being connected to the people that I care about, and living a pretty simple life. I also practice yoga every-day. We just opened this little yoga hotel in Bali, it’s called Soulshine Bali. It’s a retreat center for people who want to give back to themselves or just want to go eat coconuts.