Taken from Anchorage Press (June 14, 2012)
Fanatical for Franti: Easygoing artist continues crossing borders with his new album
by Jeri Kopet
Michael Franti is a lot of things: a barefoot poet, activist, singer-songwriter, and multicultural spokesman. The one thing that Michael Franti isn’t: trite. Franti has been involved in music in a many roles, bouncing from early stints in underground hip-hop to his now well-known work with the band Spearhead. In each incarnation, Franti has promoted social consciousness, environmental conservation, and goodwill, while avoiding some of the cheesy pitfalls other “socially aware” artists sometimes falter toward.
Franti was gifted with an upbringing that doubtlessly instilled a sense of cultural and self-awareness in the young artist. Franti’s birth mother was of European descent while his father was half African American and half Native American. Franti was raised by adoptive white parents in the predominantly African-American city of Oakland, CA.
Franti’s unique perspective bled into his creative life, and often for the better. No matter what genre Franti works within, he has always blended his musical styles, from his early mix of hip-hop and industrial music to his current fusion of R&B, reggae, and rock.
“When I first started in music, I got into it backwards; I started writing poetry about things that were important to me and gradually I picked up my guitar,” says Franti in an interview with United Nations Radio.
Franti began his foray into music as a member of the Beatnigs, followed by the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, both in his early 20s. Both bands channeled a younger and brasher side of the young musician, although his lyrical wishes for global change were ever-present. If you’re curious, tracks like the oddball “California Uber Alles” and “Satanic Reverses” are interesting pieces of Franti’s early work that are worthy of several listens.
After these two early projects disbanded, Franti formed Spearhead in the ‘90s, this time taking his cues from the soulful funk bands and R&B of the ‘70s. The first album, Home, was released in 1994, garnering attention for the popular tracks “Hole in the Bucket” and “Positive,” which discussed homelessness and AIDS, respectively. From this point onwards, Franti seems to have found his voice, becoming increasingly outspoken while skirting and sometimes infiltrating the mainstream music scene.
Franti & Spearhead churned out five studio albums between Home and the 2008 album, All Rebel Rockers, which arguably cemented Franti as a genre-crossing hero. The album, recorded in Jamaica, cruised into the Billboard Top 40 while the song “Say Hey (I Love You)” made the U.S. Top 20. Even the most jaded curmudgeon can’t resist the track (believe me, I’ve tried), which showcases Franti’s effortless island vibes.
Franti & Spearhead even revisit “Say Hey” on their new album The Sound of Sunshine. Despite the slightly sugary title, most of the album was written while Franti was hospitalized for a ruptured appendix.
“I almost died and I wrote many of these songs coming out of that experience while I was in the hospital for another week or so after that,” says Franti in his website biography.
Faced with his own mortality, Franti came to realize the true importance of his friends and family and gained a desire to spread a message of hope and light to others who needed it. This sentiment fit right in with his established quest for universal consciousness, so the album developed organically, and The Sound of Sunshine is being praised as his best yet.
Franti even utilized a portable studio during the recording process, testing out different arrangements while touring, and recording the parts that audiences liked best. “These songs have really been tested in front of live bodies,” says Franti. And if these songs are anything like his past work, those bodies were certainly ecstatic and dancing.