Taken from FairField Weekly (June 21, 2011)
Singer and Activist Michael Franti Plays at the Ives Concert Park in Danbury
by Jackson Connor
Michael Franti and Spearhead: still active.
When most musicians find themselves with a couple of days off tour in Florida in the middle of May they either hit the beach, play golf, or go clubbing with any number of Miami Heat players. You know, the usual. Yet singer/songwriter/filmmaker/humanitarian (the list goes on) Michael Franti is refreshingly unusual, and when faced with a similar situation, he chose a far less glamorous vacation.
“[From Florida] I just hopped on a plane to Haiti, which is only like a 90-minute flight, but it's like traveling a thousand miles and a thousand years away in terms of what the conditions are like,” he says. “I was just going really to see what was going on there, so I could better communicate it as we traveled around the world.”
In many ways, Franti, who plays Ives Concert Park in Danbury, with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals on June 27, is a professional communicator. He travels to countries devastated by natural disaster, disease and war, and communicates their strife through song, and most recently film. In his 2005 documentary I Know I'm Not Alone, Franti examined the cost of war in the Middle East, not from a monetary or political perspective — as is often the focus of the mainstream media — but from a humanitarian perspective. In Haiti, he again hoped to let the people tell their own story, simply interviewing men and women he met while playing his guitar.
“I just played music on the streets and then talked to people about their lives,” explains Franti. “Over the course of the next five or six months, we're going to be traveling to many different places in the world and I think I'll put together a film, not specifically about one place, but about similar themes that are taking place in different parts of the world.”
Franti is best known for fronting the band Michael Franti and Spearhead, who enjoyed recent success thanks to the single “Say Hey (I Love You)” off of 2008's All Rebel Rockers. Since the mid-‘90s, the band has been creating upbeat, reggae and hip-hop- infused rock, while lyrically remaining topical. Though Franti has just begun the writing process for the group's next record (due out spring 2012), he has found difficulty remaining positive amidst the suffering he sees in his travels.
“It's hard …most of my songs start off as sad songs and I have to shape them into optimistic songs,” he says.
It's Franti's sincerity and selflessness that keep him from coming off as some kind of dreadlocked Bono. He has little to gain personally from his humanitarian efforts (his documentaries are self-funded and his record sales are for the most part modest), yet he won't stop.
“One thing I've learned from being involved in activism is it's never hard to get people excited to support a cause — it's difficult to get people to stay involved over decades,” says Franti. “[My music] is really about inspiring people. It's about determination, adversity, overcoming hard times and being able to smile and laugh and dance when you need to.”