Taken from Vancouver Folk Music Festival (July 18 - 20, 2003)
Michael Franti and Spearhead
"Staying human" seems to sum up a big part of the challenge many of us face in the world these days. It is the essence of Michael Franti & Spearhead. Stay Human is a song they sing, a website address, their latest CD and, most importantly, it is what they represent every time they appear onstage together.
Their music comes from deep roots that go way back to gospel and the earliest R&B, and continue unbroken through Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Gil Scott Heron, Stevie Wonder, Grandmaster Flash and Public Enemy to right now. From this rich musical heritage, the communities they live and work in, and their own reflections and creativity, they create conscious music for the masses.
For those who think all rappers are obsessed with gold, guns and such, Michael Franti's lyrics will come as something of a revelation. For more than 10 years, with the Beatnigs, the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and now Spearhead, he has been speaking out about the criminal justice system, the corporatization of our lives, AIDS, homelessness, the death penalty and other evils in our world, including war. Michael's raps and songs are brave, articulate statements that face both the issues and the beauty in the world head on.
Sometimes there is anger in his work, because there is much to be angry about. However, the overwhelming emphasis is positive. He is a major believer in community and in our individual and collective ability to learn and change. In his words, "I feel like the role of the artist today is to try to enrage, enlighten, and inspire. Sometimes I think it's really good that we get out, through the music, our frustrations, and our anger. I also think that there are other times where the music should take us inward and help us to sit down and be mindful, and create peace in our own hearts and remove judgment and self-criticism, so we're prepared to go out and face the challenges of the world."
At the same time, it's clear that Michael Franti and Spearhead share Emma Goldman's sentiments about the best revolutions being the ones you can dance to. It really is different dancing when there is both a beat and a passionate voice singing about the truths that actually are self-evident. When they played at the Commodore this past winter, they laid down a non-stop funk-reggae-hip-hop groove that went on for hours. Long after other bands would have been back at the hotel or on their way out of town, Spearhead were still throwing down monster beats and bass lines that rocked that old house and the souls of everyone in it. A Spearhead performance, in Michael's words, is "part booty-shaking jam session, part cosmic transformation, and part social activism assembly, all rolled into one sweaty, sexy, raucous good time."
Working with Michael are Manas Itiene (drums), Radioactive (beatbox), Dave Shul (guitar) and Carl Young (bass), and if you see Daryl Staples this weekend, say thanks. He's a long-time volunteer here at the Festival who helped make this possible.