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Taken from El Paso Inc (Sep 14, 2011)

Santana opener Michael Franti talks human rights advocacy, legalizing marijuana

by Mía R. Cortez

Michael Franti
Photo courtesy Stone City Attractions

Singer/songwriter Michael Franti was a tall, scrawny basketball player living in a dorm room above the University of San Francisco’s college radio station when he and his (equally tall) roommate first picked up a guitar and started jamming out. In 1987, Franti formed a band that in a blink of an eye went from playing local punk rock clubs to stadiums nationwide. One of their first major breaks was opening for U2, which he says was nothing short of an “incredibly humbling experience.” He’s since toured with Dave Matthews, REM and Ziggy Marley.

Franti, 45, and his band Spearhead, are musical guests for Carlos Santana in the “Sound of Collective Consciousness” Tour, set to hit the Don Haskins this Friday night.

In a recent interview with What’s Up, Franti talks of the message they hope to spread with music, social advocacy and playing with a musical legend.

Q. What’s it like playing with Carlos Santana?
It’s great! He’s been one of my heroes my entire life; he’s right up there with the legends for me – Johnny Cash, Bob Marley. Carlos is very kind, very open and giving musically. I’ve always followed him because I grew up in the Bay Area where he’s always been based, and he’s also a huge advocate of human rights.

Q. You are an advocate, too. What issue is closest to your heart right now?
The famine in Somalia is one. There are a couple of groups out collecting money at our shows to support famine relief in South Africa. But I’m someone who feels like it’s not about focusing on one particular issue, so you see the world with a different empathy.

Q. Is it true what you say in “Say Hey” – the more you see, the less you know?
It is definitely true. As I travel around the world, I see so much. I’ve been to Iraq, Gaza, South America, Indonesia and Africa. The more places I go I realize I don’t know anything; I’m just a baby in this world.

Q. Tell me about the iPhone video you made of “The Only Thing Missing Was You.”
We found this really cool app and shot the video in a hotel room for under 25 bucks, which was the whole purpose. It’s very sexy, filmed with just me and my girlfriend Jolene Rust. It started on YouTube and now airs on all the video channels. It’s great to have (a video) be just as successful. Technology today has come so far that you can do so much on your own. However, our record label was peeved that they won’t receive money for the video.

Q. It’s been 11 years since you’ve worn shoes. Has that philosophy ever gotten you into any sticky situations?
Yeah, like stepping in chewing gum, or poop, which is the worst thing I’ve stepped in. I started going barefoot when I started going to countries where people didn’t have shoes. There are more than 300 million kids and almost a billion people (total) in the world who have never owned a pair of shoes.

I tried it for three days, then one month, then a year, and last year was my tenth year. I’m an advocate for the group Soul for Soles, which collects shoes and delivers them to needy people in other parts of the world.

Q. Do your kids wear shoes? Are they also musically inclined?
(Laughs) They do, although they’re always losing them. My sons, ages 24 and 12, are both music lovers and compassionate people. They keep me in touch with what’s happening musically, especially my younger son.

Q. Your song “Ganga Babe” is about weed. As a California native, what do you think about the innovations in medical marijuana?
At my shows over the past 25 years, I’ve seen effects of drunkenness on people and the effects of marijuana highs and I can tell you that the drunks are much worse than the stoners. I feel like we need to have an open discussion on it as medicine and for the healthcare of people rather than saying it is bad and locking people up for having small amounts.

Q. Do you imbibe?
I did for many years, from the 1980s to about 2000. Then I started practicing yoga and running and I just found I couldn’t smoke and wake up the next day and feel strong enough to do what I do.

Q. “Say Hey” is a feel-good song, refreshingly free of vulgarities or profanity. Was that a conscious effort on your part?
We have so many families that come to the show and bring their little kids. We get fans from 6 to 60 and we really take pride in that. But it’s never been a conscious effort, I just don’t feel like I need to curse or say certain things with my music.

Q. Is music really your own dose of sunshine?
Like going for a run, playing music has a way of always changing my perspective. My songs are about optimism, about finding the sunshine in places you never thought existed before, like being with your kids, peeling an orange or opening a curtain for the first time of the day. I feel that at this time we need songs of optimism and hope.


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