Taken from X-Press Online (December, 2002)
US Against Them
by SABIAN WILDE
In Australia once again to tell it like it is - or at least how he sees it - Michael Franti is rarely less than inspiring. With this tour, he and two other members of Spearhead will give you down-home, earthy tones as they weave an acoustic path through the sunburned country. They play the Globe Theatre on Saturday, December 14.
Some conversations are worth waiting 10 years for; Television: The Drug Of A Nation (Disposable Heroes Of Hip Hop) was one of the biggest tunes on the alternative radio circuit, but Franti was just cruising through Freo, meeting the natives and killing time at the Esplanade before playing the Big Day Out.
Surprisingly (it seemed), he accepted an invitation to come check out a local band who were doing great numbers with their regular weekend gig, but when Franti got up and jammed with them, there were a couple of hundred people who got the inside scoop on what has been a consistently sincere and well-respected career, that retains an amazing, positive and entertaining live work ethic.
In this time, he has fronted two bands, not to mention adding his stamp to countless collaborations and projects of both musical and social importance. He has a tendency to talk in soundbites, no doubt because he views the media both as a necessary evil and a dangerous source of misinformation. However, just watch the man sing and dance, and all suspicions as to his credibility are left in the dust.
Michael Franti is the real deal.
By SABIAN WILDE
I've been racking my brains trying to work out if I interviewed you for Stay Human, or if I just feel like I have.
(Laughing) You're just like me, then.
In the end I thought that everybody who's a fan of yours, or of Spearhead or The Disposables - everybody who's a fan of Michael Franti probably feels like they're in dialogue with you.
Oh, that's nice to hear, I appreciate that.
I remember the first time I saw you wasn't even with the Disposables - you just came down to the local pub and started jamming with a band called Souls Ajah. Since then you've become well known for doing that is it still something you do today?
Yeah, I do that wherever. That's how I started playing music, and how I get the most satisfaction - just playing music. People ask me sometimes what I consider to be success and for a long time I didn't have an answer for that. But for me, what makes me feel successful is having a deeper understanding of myself, who I am and why I feel alive and whole; music has helped me find that. When I jam with people I find out more about myself.
So how much of your life is spent playing music?
I would say a lot (laughs) My wife would say more than it needs to be But my days are long - I put in long hours, when I'm at home I'm in the studio Monday to Friday, well into the late hours of the night, 'til three or four. During the day I'll take a break, spend a few hours with my kids, do some yoga and then back into the studio.
And somehow, you still make time to do community work as well.
Yeah, I still do a lot of community work, speaking in schools, putting on a lot of different events in San Francisco and around the country, various social justice causes. At the moment we're spending a lot of time opposing the war. I performed at the most recent rally that was here in San Francisco, but we started four years ago, putting on concerts for Mumia Abu-Jamal, unjustly accused for murdering a police officer.
We put the first concert on on September 11, and obviously that day has a whole different significance to it these days. This year, we wanted to claim September 11, not as a day of war, of sabre rattling and pseudo patriotism; we wanted to claim it as a day for social justice; to ask why people around the world are upset in the first place.
I've got an older interview with you here in front of me; you once said that you'd had a dream about Bill Clinton, you said that he appeared to be a really nice guy but really he's "really more of a drug-dealing, Marilyn Manson type of torturer," - which is probably a bit unfair on Marilyn Manson
Did I say that? (Laughing) I don't remember ever saying that.
Well, it was Channel [V]
I don't remember ever saying that maybe Charles Manson, but not...
Anyway, I think a lot of people were taken in by Bill Clinton's apparent goodwill - the most socialist-friendly of the candidates, and they did feel disappointed but then George W Bush gets elected?
Oh he's taken it to a whole other level - but one thing that people often forget about Bill Clinton is that in the middle of the whole sex scandal thing, he also bombed Iraq, he bombed Baghdad. People forget that Presidents use war as a weapon of mass distraction - to divert attention from whatever's happening.
Well, one thing I've noticed is that whenever a new President gets sworn in, an armed conflict soon follows - it's as if they have to prove to everyone that not only are they the commanding chief of a military power, but they're not afraid to throw their weight around - or is that too cynical?
No - I think you're right. There's also something to be said about America having once been the greatest nation in the world - in the eyes of the Americans, at least. America had the best economy, the best schools, the best health-care - all of those things and it's not that way any more.
We don't have the best schools, we don't have the lowest infant mortality rate - we have lots of sick people, lots of homelessness, mass environmental destruction; the one thing we're still the best at is militarism. At the end of the day, you can talk about economic sanctions - blah, blah, blah, these other things - at the end of the day it's still down to who's got the biggest bombs, who gets to decide which tune is played.
I don't feel that we should be engaging in a war on terrorism, we should be engaging in a war against militarism. The reason I can say that with such certainty is because I believe that all bombing is terrorism - no matter who's doing it.
I'm sure you're aware of the recent Bali bombings; one of the things I found most distressing about it was the fact that after September 11, of course we were shocked, but as a nation we were still hesitant to play Tanto as America sent in military troops into a country they weren't at war with, supposedly to find one man and his group. We were sympathetic, but over that next couple of weeks as we were told more information about Bin Laden, we were still shocked, but we still wanted proof.
When the bombs went off in Bali, it was less than 24 hours before we were told that it was a Muslim sect, working with Bin Laden, in turn working with Saddam Hussein, and all of a sudden we're getting ready to join an unsanctioned attack on Iraq. We were really quick to show our support - even though it's a bomb that went off in another country, it was made to feel like a personal attack.
Well, even if there is proof - well, we can bomb the world into pieces, but we can't bomb it into peace. Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass-destruction well, how's that any different to ours? Do ours not have the same capacity to destroy lives? Why should we be allowed to have them?
There's an idea of Western superiority - that the West should have the riches of the world, the oil of the world, all the resources of the world, and we should be able to use those resources developing new weapons that none else is allowed to have. If those nations don't bow down to us in terms of letting us be able to come into their land, buy their oil and use their resources, we than threaten to bomb them - that is terrorism.
The media are trying to play off our fears, telling us that Saddam now has SCUD missiles - excuse me, but aren't those the missiles that we fired at them last time, making them a symbol of terror not to mention that they're great for killing people.
Anyway - not to keep it all on the subject of death - I hear you like to play music sometimes although there's no real attempt to separate your politics from your music anyway - but the best thing about your music is that it is both inspiring and inviting participatory. You guys are no slouches either - I've noticed you have four nights in a row before you make it to Perth.
Actually, that's a light schedule for us - and probably those two days off will get filled with playing shows somewhere else - we love playing, we love doing it. If we spend more than a couple of days off, we're twiddling our thumbs down at the beach, feeling like we should be playing a show
You once said you had an ambition to swim in all the oceans of the world how's that going?
Still coming (Laughing) I've yet to go in the Antarctic, the Arctic South Africa or West Africa there's a lot of water out there.
Another thing about the way you tour: you always seem to know what's going on in the places where you play. When you were jamming with Souls Rajah, Danny Passionfruit was singing something like, 'I'm the best on the mike and I keep my rhymes tight'; then he threw it to you and you said, "I was reading the paper today There's something really sad about the way your culture treats indigenous people." I thought it was strange, how you could talk about these issues in a way when local people might be hesitant...
When I go somewhere, I always read the papers, and I always ask people - everyday people - what's going on. If I'm in a taxi, it's the taxi driver, or if I'm in a restaurant, I'll ask the waiter, 'what's up? What's important to you?'
Really, what I see is that it's the same problems everywhere: the military and the corporate worlds, economics - they always get held over the spiritual, or human interests. It doesn't matter if it's a war between Israel and Palestine, or Israel's war on Palestine - or when I was in Boston last week, I sang at a janitor's strike - it's the same issues in every place, and it's important when you travel to touch down with these issues - it gives you a real, deeper perspective on humanity, and that's really what I'm interested in.