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Taken from LAUNCH, Music on Yahoo! (May 11, 2001)
Spearhead - 'Stay Human'
Released on 07/05/2001
Label: Parlophone

by Paul Sullivan and by Gary Crossing

Michael Franti "What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?" asked Elvis Costello one upon a time. Twenty odd years on Mr Michael Franti would wholeheartedly agree.

As a member of industrial jazz-punk outfit The Beatnigs, and one half of the Public Enemy-influenced rap duo Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy, San Francisco-based Franti's message has always been thus. It's just that over the years, he's changed the style of music he uses to get his word across.

Since 1994 Spearhead have been Franti's means of creating more accessible music with which to shoulder his socially conscious lyrics. Mixing funk, soul, Sugar Hill era rap, jazz and reggae they are clearly lovers of Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Gil Scott-Heron, Marvin Gaye (circa 'What's Going On') Bill Withers, Bob Marley, The Staple Singers and Grandmaster Flash.

This their third album is easily Franti's finest moment to date. A concept album of sorts, it features Franti as a Brother Soulshine, a DJ on local radio station Stay Human. The tracklisting is interspersed with conversations he and co-presenter The Nubian Poetess have about the impending fictional execution of Sister Fatima, a 61-year-old wrongly convicted for the murder of a business couple. Actor Woody Harrelson meanwhile, plays local Governor Franklin Shane, who is hoping to get himself re-elected by making sure the good sister gets her lethal injection.

Taking the death penalty as the central theme for an album -the sleevenotes feature anti-death penalty quotes from the like of Bono, Chuck D and Nirvana's Krist Novoselic- may not sound like much of a party, but there's a human warmth and gentle humour in Franti's delivery, hitched to hugely danceable and uplifting music.

In fact the way that Franti manages to combine such serious subject matter with such eminently uplifting sounds is a skill only to be found in the work of 60's and 70's black icons like Curtis Mayfield, Gil Scott Heron and Marvin Gaye. We should be thankful that at least one artist out there is carrying on such a worthy tradition.

Standout tracks include the deeply funked up, smoky rap of 'Stay Human (All The Freaky People', the simply irresistible bass-heavy bump'n'grind of 'Rock The Nation', the light optimistic vibery of 'Sometimes' and the summery, Latino-tinged lilt of 'Soulshine'.

Tackling police brutality, racism, intolerance, violence, drugs, all-consuming consumerism and urban loneliness, Franti does so in an uncompromising yet tenderly human way. Some albums may encourage a people's revolution in a smash up McDonalds kind of way. Few however, leave you wanting to go out and be nice to people, stop that pushing and shoving, love thy neighbour and remember what in the daily grind and the rush to buy the latest white goods, many of us have lost sight of...

As Franti asks, "are we part of the solution or are we part of the pollution". Peace, love and understanding children. And remember, stay human.


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