Taken from The Providence Journal (March 2, 2004)
Ziggy Marley, Franti and Spearhead play Wednesday at Lupo's
01:00 AM EST on Monday, March 1, 2004
by WALTER TUNIS
Knight Ridder Newspapers
The healing power of music has never been lost on Michael Franti. As leader of the modern soul and hip-hop ensemble Spearhead, which plays with Ziggy Marley at Lupo's on Wednesday, he has long viewed music as a means of social change.
But it wasn't until after his father's death four months ago that he realized a song could be as medicinal personally as it could be politically.
"I'm always amazed at the power of music," said Franti. "I guess the most recent example for me was a song I heard by [West Coast singer] Myrah. It's kind of a folkie singer-songwriter type thing called 'Person.' I would listen to that song over and over and just weep.
"So I found it interesting how a song I never imagined being meaningful in my life, in a style of music that wasn't my own, would have this intention, that it would reach me years later and a thousand miles away from where it was written.
"You never know what music is going to reach what person at what time and bring about something that needs to come out."
A versed spoken-word artist who first struck a political chord a decade ago as frontman for the short-lived Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, Franti is accentuating the politically positive with tunes from Spearhead's new Everyone Deserves Music album.
Owing more to old-school R&B than to hip-hop, the album imagines a world where "pores would be dripping with red-hot intellect" (on the vintage soul excursion "What I Be"), while war-savvy powers discover "we can bomb the world to pieces but we can't bomb it into peace" (on "Bomb the World").
"It's easy to point out all the things that are wrong with the world," Franti said. "It's always easy to point the finger. But it's more difficult -- and, at the same time, more powerful and meaningful -- to deal with the emotions that exist around these issues.
"That's how I wrote 'Bomb the World.' What I wanted to do was express the human cost of war."
Fashioning positive groove music, particularly with sounds reflecting cross-generational inspirations, was one of Franti's objectives on the new album.
"In the past, I always wrote from a beat," he said. "I would put a beat up and write rhymes to it. But those songs were not harmonically and melodically as strong as what we've been doing lately.
"Recently, I fell in love with playing the acoustic guitar. That really changed the way I approach music. It's really opened up a lot, especially in the dynamic of the songs. I saw them begin to build up, break down, build up and then grow."
Of course, Spearhead's challenge remains how to forge songs that musically and lyrically uplift a world rife with war and political strife, as well as a hip-hop community weighed down by songs embracing violence and sexism.
"You see, that's the thing. I've always been an artist that dealt with social and political ideas in my music," he said. "Those things have always been part of my craftsmanship. But I didn't want to hit people over the head with those ideas.
"We just wanted to make a record that could speak to the pain, fear, sadness and frustration we all have about what's happening in the world. But at the end of the day, we still wanted to show how it was beautiful and joyous music that left you feeling inspired enough to think this world was still a place worth struggling for."
Ziggy Marley and Michael Franti and Spearhead play Wednesday at Lupo's at The Strand, 79 Washington St., Providence, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22.50 advance, $25 the day of the show. Call 331-5876, 272-5876.