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Taken from HamptonRoads / PilotOnline (Jul 26, 2012)

Michael Franti: 'A good pop song... is a powerful force'

by Cathy Carter, Virginian-Pilot correspondent

Michael FrantiMichael Franti has spent much of his artistic career trying to widen other people's worldview. It took a near-death experience to change his own perspective.

"I was so thankful to be alive that I started writing songs of gratitude," said the musician and poet.

"I ruptured my appendix a couple years ago and became very septic and close to dying, so when I came back from the operation I was able to prioritize what's truly important in my life, and that's the people I love."

While the San Francisco-based musician has covered a lot of stylistic ground during his career, he has mostly centered his lyrical message on themes of social justice and human rights.

Since his early days as a hip-hop-loving punk rocker, Franti has made a career of channeling his activism through music. He's gone barefoot for more than 10 years to draw attention to poverty, and his charity work has helped to provide free shoes for people in need. He's traveled to many of the world's conflict zones and produced an award-winning documentary on the human cost of war ("I Know I'm Not Alone").

After his recent health scare, however, Franti found himself inspired to reach people in a manner more personal than political.

"It's not enough to just point out the problems of the world," he maintained. "That's pretty easy to do."

These days, the yoga- practicing 46-year-old is feeling more hopeful.

"I want to have the ability to inspire somebody to wake up in the morning and make breakfast for their kids, get them all in the car for school, then go to work, come home and still have enough love and energy to care about the world beyond themselves."

The outcome of that aspiration produced Franti's most recent record, 2010's feel good reggae-pop release, "The Sound of Sunshine." The album's title track was a Top 40 hit, and Franti, who plays tonight with his band Spearhead at The NorVa, seems just fine with trading in protest songs for radio hits.

"The truth is a good pop song that makes you feel good is a powerful force that can instantly and almost chemically change your entire mood."

It's the kind of transformation Franti witnessed firsthand when he performed a few years ago in Iraq.

"When I would play for the Iraqi civilians, I thought they were going to want to hear songs speaking out against war, but they were like, 'We are already living in a war; we don't want to hear songs about war. We want to hear songs that make us laugh and dance and cry and feel connected to each other.' "

Like his more holistic approach, Franti's positivity has been a work in progress. Growing up as the adopted child of a white couple, the musician's mixed-race biological heritage often made him feel like an outsider.

"A lot of my songs come from my own personal experience," he confided. "We all want to fit in and be accepted, but none of us want to feel forced to change the person we are. That's what's really at the heart of my music. It's the differences in people that make up the beauty of our planet, and to play for people and share your songs with them is to make a real connection. There's no higher honor."

Cathy Carter, cathycarter@verizon.net


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