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Taken from Synthesis (March, 2004)

Michael Franti

Because of modern issues like the current war in Iraq, uprising in Haiti, oppression of gay marriage and continuing imprisonment for relatively sterile misdeeds, being positive normally sucks. Really, it's become disgusting, which is why we laugh at people like Tony Robbins, Stuart Smalley, Bob Ross and Richard Simmons (okay, we laugh at Richard Simmons for a lot of reasons). But every once in a while, someone pulls off a brighter vibe with a genuine sense of grace and style. In this case, that someone is actually some two: Ziggy Marley and Michael Franti. One, a Rastafarian with a warm heart, a worthy cause and an almost unintelligible Jamaican accent. The other, an Oakland-born legend with striking features, a voice comparable to Barry White's and a Christ-like aura, especially when surrounded by fans and loved ones. Both, wonderful manufacturers of music and inspiration.
As a three-time Grammy winner and one of Jamaica's most original artists, Ziggy Marley still remains best known as the eldest offspring of reggae pioneer Bob Marley - at times, he's even been accused of ripping off his father's image. When asked what it was like to live in his dad's shadow, he bluntly corrects, "Shadow? I'm flesh and blood. I'm more than shadow. I'm not in his shadow; I'm a part of him. I naturally symbolize his ideas.you know, just listen to the music, mon. The music speaks for what it is." Truly, the man has a point.
However, in spite of their spiritual ties, Ziggy can still clarify how his work is distinguishable from Bob's. "It has a lot of different elements to it. It's a much more experimental vibe, which [my father] was doing in his time.the difference between me and him is almost the same thing; it's that we're still pushing the limits of what we know of music. Pushing the limits and going ahead, you know, mon?" Thus, Ziggy's answer to the question of what's missing in the music world today: "More music," he laughs. "Less manufactured music and more real music. More organic music, you know.especially in the media."
It's no surprise then that his cohort, hip-hop funkstar Michael Franti, was initially a product of rather primitive (i.e., "organic") musical beginnings. Franti states, "When I first started making music, I didn't play any instruments. So I bought myself a bass and with the Beatnigs, we used a lot of instruments that we made, like garbage cans and pieces of metal that we hooked up to pickups to make all these different percussion instruments." The combination of such experimental means and Michael's socio-political poetry would eventually lead to a groundbreaking career, a full-frontal funk attack on social injustice. Similar to Bob Dylan's aid in the release of wrongly convicted Ruben "The Hurricane" Carter, Franti too has used his music as a tool of righteousness. His last album, Stay Human, was largely framed around the case of Sister Fatima, the owner of a medical marijuana facility, falsely placed on death row for murdering her landlords over an argument that never took place. It is revealing, it is enlightening and it is fictional. That's right, Franti made it up. But judge not, for he gladly explains, "The reason that I chose to use a fictitious case is that although there's lots of different people who are on death row unjustly; I didn't want to have to just choose one of them, because I believe that it's not as important to prove that [just] one person is innocent as it is to show that the whole system is guilty.that the whole system doesn't work."
But with this shadow of negativity comes an optimistic shift in Franti's focus. He expands on his change in style from the earlier, angst-y days in the industry (circa 1986). "Lyrically, I went from just writing songs from a place of anger and what was happening in the world, because I felt powerless. But as I've gotten more involved in the issues that I talk about - going directly into prisons and performing, playing at the Power to the People festival every year, speaking out against war.getting involved in all these things - I find that I don't feel powerless; I feel connected. And so my lyrics have changed from being songs about how mad I am to being songs about how I can remain inspired and how I can inspire other people." Who could argue with that?
Michael Franti & Spearhead fans often report two things: 1) "Every show is the same" and 2) "Every show is excellent." Kind of leaves you scratchin' your head, doesn't it? And while it seems to have worked well so far, this rotation will represent a new excellence - where experts and amateurs alike will experience something new at a Michael Franti & Spearhead show; specifically, the addition of Ziggy Marley and a slightly modified approach to boot. "Ziggy and I [will] do a couple of songs together, and we both have 90-minute sets. It's really like a co-headlining type situation," Franti equitably states. Ziggy once again makes a correction of phraseology, "Not headline, but more of a tag team."


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