For Michael Franti, “Once a Day” is more than just a new song from an upcoming album. It’s also about a movement.
“The lyrics in the song are about how in life we go through hardships, and the song is a reminder that we should hug somebody and love somebody at least once a day,” says the rapper and singer-songwriter of Michael Franti and Spearhead. “Take those moments and be grateful for what we have.”
While the energetic “Once a Day” tour is all about “throwing your arms around someone you didn’t know and having a good time, making you feel alive and singing and jumping up and down,” inspiration for the actual song came from his son, who was diagnosed last year at age 15 with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a rare kidney disease. Franti says the chronic illness has taken away 50 percent of his son’s kidney function.
“We thought it was something that would tear our family apart,” he says. “But it brought our family closer together. We have a deeper appreciation for every day that we have.”
He says that though his son’s kidneys have weakened, he is doing well, with a changed diet and herbal medications. “We’re hopeful,” Franti says.
Franti is also working on his next album, which will include “Once a Day” and “Same as It Ever Was (Start Today),” a song he wrote in response to the unrest between police officers and African-Americans.
“I was in the studio in Miami writing for my next record at the time Eric Garner came down,” he says, referring to New York man who died last year after a police officer placed him in a chokehold. A grand jury decided not to indict the officer.
“Everybody had been through so much with the Michael Brown case,” Franti says. “There was so much anger I was feeling — so much frustration. I was seeing how there were so many polarized opinions about police violence in the black community.”
Franti lives in the Hunter’s Point community in San Francisco, which he says is 90 percent black with a heavy police presence and problems with drugs and unemployment.
But he says the neighborhood also “has a lot of beautiful people who care about the community and work hard — civilians as well as police. But when the police do things that are bad and the system supports that, then the system needs to change. That’s what this song is about.”
He says Brown’s and Garner’s stories are extreme cases, but other scenarios play out across the country all the time that most people never hear about.
The high-profile cases “put a punctuation mark on it,” he says. “There’s going to be change in this country. There’s so much more awareness now than there was just two years ago — so much more dialogue about it. Everyone is paying attention.”
Franti and his son had their own experience last summer when they were pulled over by police officers in their neighborhood. Franti was briefly accused of double homicide, he says, and separated from his son. One of the officers among the four squad cars recognized him, which made a difference.
While he’s in St. Louis for his show at the Pageant on Monday night, he plans to visit Ferguson with guitar in hand, something he has done in response to the Iraq War and the tsunami in Indonesia.
“I’ve played in a lot of places where intensity is happening,” he says. “I just take my guitar and go out in the street and talk and listen to what people have to say. I’m not going to fix something. I’m a listener.”