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Taken from Georgetown Voice (March 04, 2004)

Meet Michael Franti and Spearhead

by Kathryn Brand

Michael Franti"I just want to take this time to announce that during the show, the use of cameras, videotapes, audiotapes, and other types of recording devices," announces Michael Franti, in his two hour opening set for Ziggy Marley, as several people quickly hide their digitals in their pockets, "are all fine with me!" he shouts. The crowd cheers wildly as bursts of camera flashes briefly illuminate the 9:30 Club.

Michael Franti & Spearhead is one of the few bands that not only allows but supports their music being recorded and traded. "If we can create a relationship with our audience, they'll come back," Franti explains. And, indeed they have. In fact, after the band (formerly called just Spearhead) shocked the music world by leaving their major label Capitol Records for Franti's own independent label Booboo Wax, they somehow sold more records than they ever imagined. With little to no radio play and only word of mouth advertising, the band has continued to flourish. Instead of selling out, Michael Franti & Spearhead have stood their ground.

This is not to say that their music has not evolved since the band's formation in 1994. Franti today, calmly sitting in the small dressing room of the 9:30 Club, is not the same Franti of his former groups the Beatnigs, the Disposible Heroes of Hiphopricy, or even of Spearhead's previous three albums. His older music was harsher, built on beats, and, in the case of the Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes, sometimes difficult to listen to.

"I was very angry," Franti explains. "I saw all these things going on around me, and I felt powerless ... Now I don't feel powerless. Because now I'm involved." Whether it's the death penalty, the environment, the legalization of marijuana, political prisoners, AIDS, homosexuality, prison reform, or youth activism, he is involved. In fact, Franti is as known in his hometown of San Francisco for his political activism as for his music. For Franti, the two go hand in hand.

"Because with my music, I'm involved, I don't always feel I need to be hearing about the problems of the world," he explains, a distant cry from the protest music of his former albums. "I'm still aware of them, and so is my music. But what I need and what a lot of us need is music that helps us get up in the morning. I won't forget about the problems in my music, but I also need my music to give me the energy to stay in the game."

Energy is certainly not something Franti lacks. The singer and former scholarship basketball player at the University of San Francisco proves this every show, usually two hours of what Franti calls a "booty-shaking funk jam session." Franti literally never stops moving. Jumping and bouncing about the stage, always making direct eye-contact with the audience, Franti sweeps across the edge of the stage slapping high fives with concert-goers and shouts, "Are you feelin' it?"

Off stage and suddenly calm, each movement slow, and smooth Franti admits, "This is really what we're about. I love performing." And the audience loves it too. "I've never danced so hard in my entire life!" one audience member shouts. "I admit, I came to see Ziggy, who was amazing ... But Spearhead rocked."

Spearhead has also received warm reactions from many armed servicemen. Franti wears a bracelet given to him by a soldier who's brother died in Afghanistan and during the show he tells the story of two marines he shared beers with after his show in Birmingham, Ala.

"Disposible Heroes and Beatnigs were a very limited audience, and now I'm just trying to reach as many people as possible," Franti explains. It seems Spearhead has reached a nice balance: music with a message, but also music that, as the concert-goers say, rocks. "People are interested in our message, but also wanna dance, and I'm all about that. I just want people to come away feeling better than when they came." And if he can make the world a little better while he's at it, that's good too.


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