Michael Franti: Modern day prophet


Everyone Deserves Music
Michael Franti and Spearhead
Boo Boo wax records, through Liberation Music Australia.


The recent Australian release of the Michael Franti and Spearhead album Everyone Deserves Music will be followed up by an Australian tour by the band in August. Green Left Weekly spoke to Franti about mixing music and politics.

Independently produced through Franti's own Boo Boo Wax record label and distributed in Australia through Liberation Music, the album is a stunning mixture of musical styles and, as in all Franti's work, focuses on articulate and politically and socially conscious music that inspires and motivates fans and all listeners.

Franti's music has developed from his industrial hip hop outfits the Beatnigs in the late 1980s and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy in the early 90s, to a much broader scope with Spearhead. In this fifth Spearhead album, Franti and the band blend hip hop, samba, rock, reggae and acoustic ballads under the banner of "conscious music for the masses".

Franti and the members of Spearhead are tireless activists that beckon to their audience to join in actions and movements towards social change and global justice. Reflecting on the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Franti in "Bomb the world", sums up his opinion of militarism: "We can bomb the world to pieces, but we can't bomb it into peace".

Franti told GLW that "the song lyric came to mind at an organising meeting for a mass concert and rally we put on in San Francisco, days after September 11, 2001, declaring the city a 'Hate Free Zone'. At the time there was a harsh anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment brewing throughout America, and a number of us in San Francisco wanted to express our outrage against violence that was being inflicted upon individuals and businesses in the Muslim and Arab communities."

The new album focuses on militarism, corporations, poverty and disenfranchisement. In "We don't stop", Franti sums up the violence, greed and alienation inherent to capitalism: "They gotta war for oil, a war for gold/A war for money and a war for souls/A war on terror, a war on drugs/ A war on kindness, a war on hugs."

He continues, however, to positively promote the activist work of the peace, social justice and anti-corporate movements across the world. Franti told GLW we "shouldn't be engaging in a war against terrorism. We should be fighting a war against militarism".

In 1999, Franti left the constraints of the major record label treadmill and started his own independent label, Boo Boo Wax Records, and in 2001 re-centred his music with the release of Stay Human album.

Franti reflects that "when we were in the major label system, we'd make a record, we'd start touring, and we'd call the label and say, 'Hey, we're gonna go and do this show at this juvenile detention facility this afternoon'. They'd say, 'Well, we really want you to stop by the offices of MTV and sit down and meet with them', and we'd be like, 'Well, we're deciding were gonna go to the juvenile detention centre'. They'd kind of like roll their eyes at us and say, 'Well, its your career'.

"But now everyone that works with Boo Boo Wax and with Liberation, who is our distributor in Australia, are thinking in the same direction. Everyone knows that what we do is to try to bring conscious music to the masses."

As well as the band members' tasteful performances on the album, a couple of guests have contributed to this groove-based, connected and mature work. John Butler adds some guitar and voice to the song "Feelin free", Gift of Gab, from Blackalicious, adds rhymes to "We don't stop" and drum- and bass-masters Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare have collaborated on two songs, "Pray for grace" and "Bomb the world (Armageddon)".

The new album is a change of approach in Franti's songwriting. Most of the songs were written for the album from the acoustic guitar up. The title track "Everyone deserves music", the anthem "Yes, I will" and the simple and sparse arrangement of "Never too late" all deliver Franti's political and affirming lyrics in a musical framework that flows, rocks and grooves.

The opening track "What I be' is a personal vision of how the world could be: "If I could be the sun I'd radiate like Africa, intergalactic love and laughter." Lyrics from "Bomb the world", written in the dark aftermath of 9/11, have found their way onto protest signs, rally chants and T-shirts all over the world as millions marched for peace.

This musical activist and modern day prophet is producing some of the most accessible political insights in contemporary music today. For more information on the band and their ongoing activist work checkout their web site at<http://www.spearheadvibrations.com>.

From Green Left Weekly, July 9, 2003.
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