Monday, 14 April 2014

Feature - Michael Franti

Published in the Shortlist section of The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday April 11.

Keep The Peace

“When I was growing up, I was adopted by a family who looked very different to how I looked, I was a black kid growing up with this white family,” says Michael Franti, explaining how music first changed his life. “In the town that I lived in, a pretty small town, I felt like an outsider.

“[But] music would come into my home, and into my ears, and it told me that there was a whole other world out there. Bands like The Clash, The Police, Run DMC, Public Enemy, lots of punk rock bands like the Dead Kennedys, dance music like New Order. Even bands like Midnight Oil and INXS, bands from around the world, were a part of my living room, and reggae too.

“So just hearing all these bands, listening to experiences about life in different places, politics in different places, it really made a difference in my thinking that the world was bigger than what I was experiencing.”

Music as a way of changing lives is something Michael Franti holds dear to this day, years after those formative listening experiences. A tireless crusader for peace and human rights (he’s made numerous trips to Iraq, Palestine and Israel), music is Franti’s main platform for affecting change.

He’s well aware however, that a single song or album won’t bring about peace in the Middle East, or stop famine in Africa. “Yeah, it’s not that I don’t question it at times, I feel frustrated,” he concurs. “You watch the news, and you think, ‘The world is so fucked’.”

But the power of music, as he sees it, always shines through. “You hear a song, or I hear a song that moves my heart, changes me and stirs me and inspires me,” he smiles. Franti chooses to focus on the smaller things – he’s been quoted as saying that he believes lives can be changed by moments, and of course, those moments can be musical.

“I really believe in the power of music, I really believe in the power of one person with a guitar standing up and singing a song, that power can change a room of people,” he says. “And when that’s done over and over again, and not just one artist but by many, many artists, it has the power to effect trends in society; it can change the world.”

And so, over the course of a career which began in the mid-‘80s with The Beatnigs, continued in the early ‘90s with Disposable Heroes and carries on to this day with the all-powerful Spearhead, Franti has done his best to change the world, one moment at a time.

His latest in a long line of efforts, is most recent album All People. It carries on from where his 2010 record, The Sound Of Sunshine, left off. That record moved away from his earlier work with Spearhead – heavy, reggae-based tunes, very guitar-based – and more toward dance music, the music from the clubs as he put it at the time. All People is similar, Franti saying with a laugh, “Why [shouldn’t] the music of Spearhead be in the clubs?”

It’s an interesting sonic move for the man and the band, or at least it seems like it at a glance. “With every record we make, I always expect some people to say, ‘We love it’, and others to say, ‘Why did you change it? You should be doing the same thing’,” he says.

“If you’re not pissing some people off along the way, maybe you’re not doing it right,” he goes on with a smile. “But really, at the end of the day, I just want to make music that’s listenable, something that people can enjoy, and I don’t ever really think about the name or the genre, I just make what’s exciting to me, what I think are cool beats at the time. [And] I always change, I’m always evolving and trying to find new ways of doing things.”

Lyrically, the album adheres to his MO, “People doing small things in a big way”, which is what inspired the record as a whole. “I got to thinking,” Franti muses, “that you don’t have to stop the war in Iraq, you could start a birthing clinic in the Philippines. There are so many little things you can do.”

As far as Michael Franti is concerned, All People is a moment in time, a moment that, if it manages to change in some way just one person, then to him, it’s a success.

Samuel J. Fell

Gig: Metro Theatre, April 15 / Byron Bay Bluesfest, April 20 & 21
Tickets: Sold Out /
Live: Beat-oriented reggae-roots
Best Track: ‘Everyone Deserves Music’ from Everyone Deserves Music

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