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Taken from Straight.com (December 23, 2008)

Michael Franti aims to inspire

by Tony Montague

Michael Franti
Spearhead’s Michael Franti has gone barefoot since the day he lobbed his penny loafers at outgoing U.S. president George W. Bush’s head.

It must have been frustrating for Michael Franti to be flying out of Chicago on U.S. election night. He sensed that within a couple of hours the city’s favourite son would be declared president, amid scenes of mass euphoria. As it was, the San Francisco poet and songsmith got the sweet news of Barack Obama’s victory in the confines of a plane. At a sound check in Montreal the following afternoon, Franti celebrated in spontaneous style by writing “Obama Song” and performing it that night.

Within days, he recorded the tribute with his band Spearhead and released it as a free download. The music is pure Franti-a buoyant synthesis of ska, reggae, hip-hop, rock, and funk-pop. “I know people in Obama’s administration have heard the song and are thrilled,” says Franti, reached at his San Francisco office. “It’s an outpouring of the elation we all felt and the sense of optimism his campaign brought so many people around the world. I’d love for him to feel that in song. We’ve been invited to play at a couple of inauguration balls, so I hope he will.”

The themes of unity, hope, and empowerment that Obama invoked in his speeches are also woven into the fabric of Franti and Spearhead’s All Rebel Rockers, launched in late summer. “I wanted to make a record that inspired people and gave them the feeling that whatever happened with the vote, we could go forward,” the singer says.

He went to Jamaica to make the album, enlisting living legends Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare as coproducers, so it’s no surprise that many songs and arrangements bear a stronger-than-usual reggae stamp. All Rebel Rockers captures the festive feel of Franti and Spearhead’s live performance better than any previous release.

For his next big project, Franti will be travelling with the band to Africa to make a video documenting encounters with musicians, activists, and others in Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda. According to the 42-year-old African-American, the resulting DVD will likely be in the mould of his acclaimed I Know I’m Not Alone, which charted his trip to the Middle East in 2004 to explore war’s human costs.

“I always just go to talk to people, to discover and play music,” says Franti. “The stories of everyday people are the most compelling and meaningful ones for me. I feel that with the millions of people we see dying of AIDS in Africa, if that was happening in England or Germany we’d be there in a heartbeat to help. So why aren’t we? Is it because we’re racist and hate Africans? I don’t believe so. It’s that we don’t see Africa as part of our future. To do that, we have to see they’re people just like us-and the best way to get there is simply to have them tell about their lives. We’ve seen the inspiration Obama has brought to the continent. Now it’s time it got some serious help and attention.”

Michael Franti and Spearhead play the Vogue Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday (December 30 and 31).


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