Taken from Green Left Weekly (June, 2001)
Spearhead keeps hip hop human
US band Spearhead are one of the most radical voices in popular music. Spearhead's Michael Franti talked to MARK BROWN and JO HARVIE about the politics behind Stay Human, the band's critically acclaimed new album.
Stay Human is a powerful attack on the death penalty. Throughout the album runs the story of Sister Fatima, a fictional character who is on death row after being fitted up for murder.
Franti has regularly spoken out about Mumia Abu Jamal, a radical black journalist facing the death penalty in the United States for a murder he didn't commit. Mumia's case partially inspired the story of Sister Fatima: "I definitely believe that the reason he is on death row is because he was the voice of the voiceless. But I used the character of Sister Fatima because I didn't want to single out one innocent person. I wanted to show that the whole system is guilty.
"We've gone from having 300,000 people in prison in 1980 to 2.2 million in 2001. The prison industrial complex is big business in America."
One of the real reasons behind the victimisation of the Sister Fatima character is that she has run a medical marijuana co-op. Franti told us he supports the Scottish Socialist Party's call for the legalisation of cannabis and making heroin available on prescription: "I think that drugs are a health issue, not a criminal issue. When you look at all the positive aspects of legalisation, you wonder how the other side benefits from continued criminalisation. They must be making money, they must be happy to see people strung out, and they must be aware that the medical uses of marijuana are a threat to the pharmaceutical companies.
"After all this culling of animals here in the UK - which is fucking crazy - farmers, who are going to be broke, are going to start to say, `Hey, why can't we grow cannabis?'."
Throughout Stay Human there is a running theme of anti-globalisation, a movement that Spearhead has been heavily involved in: "We were up in Seattle for the whole week of the protests, and we played three shows there. I was really happy to see steel workers right next to radical lesbian feminists and people dressed like turtles. People are starting to communicate and to realise that our issues are really the same.
"If we want to create a global consensus that corporate globalisation is wrong, we have to think about how we reach out to people who don't already understand that. I believe in self-defence, but I don't think the movement is best aided by people rushing into a situation just because they want to have a fight with the cops. We need to be mindful of how we best draw unions and other people into the movement."
Franti said he supported Ralph Nader's presidential election campaign: "I've voted for Nader twice. I don't really believe that had he been elected things would have been so dramatically different, because it's the corporations and the military who are running the other side of the system. However, I do see, especially in local elections, that there can be substantial change within communities when people are elected from radical parties."
[From Scottish Socialist Voice, <http://www.scottishsocialistvoice.net>.]