A few weeks ago, we caught up with socially conscious hip-hop/reggae artist Michael Franti days after he played at Occupy Wall Street. Spearhead's frontman and driving force has been an activist for more than two decades, and he showed up protest in pigtails and a tall-crowned cowboy hat. Sans sound system, Franti played several songs on his guitar, including 2007's "Yell Fire," which features the lyric "Three piece suits and bank accounts in Bahamas / Wall street crime will never send you to the slammer."
Over the phone, Franti told us, "I just wanted to see what was going on. I went down there as an observer," adding, ""Wall Street as banking is part of everyone's life and the world whether we like it or not. I'd like to see Wall Street be responsible and accountable for themselves, having received the big bail outs that we've given them."
Michael Franti at Occupy Wall Street
According to our sister blog Sound of the City,Franti told the audience that showing up for your first protest easy. "But it's difficult to come the second and third time, waiting to see the newspaper the next morning to announce that Wall Street has changed its ways," he said. "In order to keep coming back," Franti told the crowd, "it takes what we call soul."
Days later, Franti explained what he took away from the experience: "People are there for all different kinds of reasons; some want to see Wall Street folk who committed crimes during the financial crisis prosecuted because to this point none of them have been. Others want to see businesses investing in renewable energy. And some people are just mad that our tax dollars were used to bail out bankers who used all of our money--and then lost it!"
Franti says the main thing expressed is people are tired of having the 1 percent elite members of the population dramatically altering the lives of the rest of the 99 percent. He says, "I really don't believe that as a world we have time for this us and them division. There really should be no more us versus them. And our country's politics makes a lot out of dividing people because of economic class, or Republicans versus Democrats, black or white. So many lines of division that are constantly being drawn."
As a musician--and a socially conscious one--Franti says "the great thing about music is it breaks down those barriers and allows people to come together and see that there's a possibility of a different way of being."
"And that's why I do it, so when I go to a place like that I learn. I have friends who work on Wall Street, in the military and prison, and every where I go I try to listen so I can be a better communicator so I can bring people together."
Franti, who's gotten a reputation for concerts that are family friendly, says the one thing he's most proud of is how accessible his music is. His themes have evolved as well; his songs are now less about social change and more about "inspiring people to be the best they can be, whatever they do."
Inspiring people to live in a compassionate world--and hope--is also the theme of Franti's latest album, which should be out next year. "I think the biggest force behind it is right now we need to see light at the end of the tunnel. As a nation, a world, people are worried about the future. We need signs things are improving. Sometimes you see it in a new baby or a flower growing in a crack of a sidewalk. As we go on to this next election year, things are going to get really hot and heated. There's going to be a lot of efforts to divide us and I think now a time to be a nation to come together."
Michael Franti & Spearhead - Yell Fire - Live at All Good Festival - YouTube