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Taken from Jamaica Gleaner News (November 25, 2008)

Rebel rocking Spearhead

by Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer

Michael Franti
Michael Franti (centre)
with Sly (right) and Robbie. - Contributed

IN THESE times of ringtones, iTunes and over-hyped pop stars, journeyman bands like Spearhead provide solace for diehard fans still keen on hearing what they consider 'real music'.

Led by vocalist and chief songwriter Michael Franti, Spearhead are on their latest tour promoting All Rebel Rockers, the quintet's eighth album, which was largely recorded in Jamaica at the Anchor studio in St Andrew.

The veteran band worked with ubiquitous rhythm team Sly and Robbie on the set which entered the Billboard 200 pop chart in September at number 38. It is the best showing by a Spearhead album since they formed in 1994.

Positive response

Speaking with The Gleaner from Northhampton, Massachusetts on Sunday, Franti said he is not surprised at the album's strong performance. He credits two key factors for the positive response.

"It's the sound, it's the rhythm, it's got conscious songs that make you feel uplifted. Especially with the political situation in America, people are looking for something more meaningful," Franti said.

Spearhead spent some time in Jamaica producing All Rebel Rockers. Music videos for All I Want is You and A Little Bit of Riddim were shot in Kingston with local director Ras Kassa, while Franti performed an acoustic set at Redbones the Blues Café in St Andrew.

Say Hey, a song with emerging reggae-soul singer Cherine Anderson, is the album's lead single.

Franti said Spearhead decided to make a reggae-flavoured album after meeting Sly and Robbie backstage at a show in the US last year.

"I wrote all the songs on acoustic guitar and I played them for Sly and Robbie, and Robbie's like, 'Yeah, we can come up with some wicked rhythms for that. Why don't you come to Jamaica?' " Franti explained.

It was the second time Franti and Spearhead were working with the famed duo who also appear on the group's 2003 album Everyone Deserves Music. Their first collaboration with a major Jamaican performer was in 1999 when they recorded the song Plenty of Nothing with guitarist Ernie Ranglin.

Franti was born and raised in San Francisco, centre of the counter-culture movement in the United States during the 1960s.

Winning formula

Initially drawn to soul and punk music, he said he discovered reggae in 1979, listening to a diverse list of artistes that included Robert 'Bob' Marley, Michigan and Smiley, Steel Pulse and Mutabaruka.

Spearhead fused the Jamaican beat with hard rock and hip hop on earlier albums. It has proved to be a winning formula with their loyal fan base which stretches from the US to Europe and Asia.

Spearhead's edgy sound has never been a hit with the mainstream, although independently distributed albums like 1997's Chocolate Supa Highway are highly regarded by critics. Like the Grateful Dead and Metallica, they depend on tireless touring to get their music across.

The band stays true to its indie roots on All Rebel Rockers, but Franti says Spearhead will definitely be looking to break new ground.

"We just came back from Brazil and next year we'll do our first tour of Africa. We really want the music to reach beyond all borders," he said.


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