JANUARY 2014: COVER STORY
ROCK STAR MICHAEL FRANTI IS TEACHING US ALL TO LIVE THE DREAM
By Hope Katz Gibbs, Publisher
Be Inkandescent magazine
In his bestselling album, “All People,” American poet, musician, and composer Michael Franti and his band Spearhead spread their message of love, peace, and social justice.
The band blends hip hop with a variety of other styles—including funk, reggae, jazz, folk, and rock—and it serves as a forum for Franti’s outspoken support for a spectrum of peace and social justice issues.
In August 2013, Franti also founded a nonprofit organization, Do It For The Love Foundation, a wish-granting organization that brings people to live concerts who are in advanced stages of life threatening illnesses, children with severe challenges, and wounded veterans.
Those are some of the topics we talked about when we interviewed the rock star at the annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam in Asheville, NC, on Dec. 14. Scroll down for our Q&A. And click here to listen to our podcast interview on the Inkandescent Radio Network.
First, a little rock history.
Born in Oakland, Calif., Franti’s mother’s heritage was Irish, German, and French, and his father was of African-American and Native American descent. Because she was afraid her family would not accept him, his mother decided to place him for adoption.
He was adopted by Carole Wisti and Charles Franti, a Finnish-American couple in Oakland, who had three biological children and two adopted African-American sons.
When he was in high school, Franti met a priest who taught him how to tell a story on paper, and soon he was writing poetry. He purchased a bass at a pawn shop and started creating music inspired by the hip hop, punk, and reggae he heard on the campus radio station.
In 1986, Franti became part of the industrial punk/spoken word band The Beatings. Their records received some critical acclaim, but little fame beyond the San Francisco Bay Area. His next project, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, included politically charged lyrics that railed against the injustices of the world. Their first album, “Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury,” won plaudits for its social commentary. Soon after, the band was chosen by U2 to open for its Zoo TV Tour, which boosted Franti’s career.
In 1994, he founded his current band, Spearhead, with a few studio musicians. Their first release, “Home,” in September 1994, was a departure from the politically charged rap, drawing more from funk and soul music. Some critics loved it, others missed the political charge. After releasing the two albums, the band split with Capitol Records and created its own label, Boo Boo Wax.
In the decade since, the band has gained a worldwide audience through touring and appearances in alternative media like Mother Jones magazine and Democracy Now!. Franti continues to tour in addition to producing the annual Power to the Peaceful festival each year since 1998. He also played three events to commemorate President Barack Obama’s inauguration: The Green Ball, The Peace Ball, and the Rock the Vote Party.
Franti is also an advocate for peace in the Middle East. His film, I Know I’m Not Alone, features footage of Iraq, the Palestinian territories, and Israel and aims to provide a better understanding of the people who live in war-torn countries. “This film came out of my frustration with watching the nightly news and hearing generals, politicians, and pundits explaining the political and economic cost of the war in the Middle East, without ever mentioning the human cost,” he explains. “I wanted to hear about the war by the people more personally affected by it: doctors, nurses, poets, artists, soldiers, and musicians.”
The film struck a chord, and in 2001, Franti received the Domestic Human Rights Award from Global Exchange, for his work to end war. In 2006, he was invited by Jenny Macklin, then an Australian Member of Parliament, to show the film at Australia’s Parliament House. Franti and band bring their environmentalism to their concerts. They avoid the use of water bottles on national tours and run their tour bus on biodiesel. And, since 2000, Franti has been shoe-free. Why? Click here to read our Q&A.