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Taken from Jamaica Gleaner (January 13, 2009)

Obama's election a powerful thing, says Michael Franti

by Tidbits Tuesday

Michael FrantiFOR 15 years, Michael Franti has been lead singer and chief songwriter for Spearhead, a politically charged American band that fuses rock, hip hop and reggae. The group recorded most of its latest album, All Rebel Rockers, with Sly and Robbie in Jamaica during 2008.

Like many socially-conscious persons, Franti followed the presidential election in the United States last year with nervous anticipation. He was overjoyed when Barack Obama, a Democratic senator from Illinois, became the first black man to be elected president.

In November, Spearhead released Yes We Can, a song paying tribute to the Obama win.

The California-born Franti, who has African and European ancestry, spoke recently to Tidbits Tuesday about the impact of Obama's historic feat.

Tidbits Tuesday (TT): Obama's victory, what does it mean for persons of multi-ethnic race and America?

Michael Franti (MF): When I went in to vote and stroke the pen across the paper, I started to cry, because when I was a kid we used to say 'Someday, there'll be a black president', but we meant 100 or 200 years from now, we never thought it would be in our lifetime. My son, he's nine years old; the first president he's gonna remember is a black president and that's a really powerful thing.

TT: What difference do you think Obama will bring to the table?

MF: He's a 21st-century leader, has a Christian mother and a Muslim father, a white mother and an African father. But he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia so he's seen America from the outside, so he really has a unique experience in having a world perspective. That's the type of leadership we need today.

TT: Have race relations changed for the better in the US in the last 15 years?

MF: I think we have a long way to go, but in terms of the attitude I see on the streets, people are more tolerant, because they are more used to seeing black businesses and more black store owners.

At the same time, since 9/11 we've seen the closing down of borders, the hatred against Islam and tightening and restriction against immigration. All those things exclude people of colour from the American experience.


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