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Taken from STLtoday (September 1, 2011)

Michael Franti, Spearhead adapt to changing sounds


Michael FrantiMichael Franti and Carlos Santana hail from different generations — Franti is 45, Santana is 64 — but they have quite a bit in common. Both are politically conscious musicians, both hail from the San Francisco Bay area, and both performed at the Fox Theatre.

Franti's band is the opening act, which makes it subject to being skipped by procrastinating concertgoers. But passing up a chance to check out Michael Franti & Spearhead would be a mistake of much the same magnitude as leaving home too late to see Stevie Wonder open for the Rolling Stones, or Kanye West take the stage ahead of U2. On last year's "The Sound of Sunshine," Franti demonstrates a sure feel for musical styles from reggae to arena rock.

Rapper-songwriter Franti says the title of the album (and of a song included on it) emerged from a difficult experience.

"Two summers ago, my appendix ruptured on tour," he says. "And as I was recovering in the hospital, I would go to the window every day, and I'd peel back the curtain, and I'd look outside to see if the sun was shining. "

When it was, he felt great — which raised a question.

"I thought if I could just somehow bottle that feeling and give it to people, what would the sun sound like? So I starting writing songs about gratitude and appreciation for the things in life that we sometimes overlook," he sais.

Franti had already made his name in punk and hip-hop groups when he started Spearhead in 1994. In the beginning, the band leaned toward soul and funk, as could be heard on its debut disc, "Home." But the follow-up album, "Chocolate Supa Highway" (1997), found Spearhead moving in the direction of hip-hop and reggae.

The band's sound shifted again about 10 years ago, when Franti taught himself to play guitar.

"It really changed the way I looked at music," he says. "From just being rhythm and rhyme, to being melody. The power of the chords of the guitar, and the voice, gets an emotion across that goes beyond language."

Opening for legendary guitarist Santana is a dream gig, Franti says.

"Growing up in the Bay area, Santana's music has been part of my life since I was a little kid," he says. "As a leader and as a musician, he has always put his heart out there — whether it was speaking about poverty or climate change or racial equality. And I've always admired him."




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