THE MAGIC OF MUSIC: JANUARY 2016
By Hope Katz Gibbs, Publisher, Be Inkandescent Magazine
In his best-selling 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.
Franti also founded a nonprofit organization, Do It For The Love Foundation, a wish-granting organization that brings people who are in advanced stages of life threatening illnesses, children with severe challenges, and wounded veterans to live concerts.
Be Inkandescent: Let’s start off talking about your Do It For The Love Foundation. What inspired you and co-founder Sara Agah to create this nonprofit?
Michael Franti: My better half, Sara, is an emergency room nurse, and for the last few years we have been trying to figure out a way to combine what she does in healthcare with my music. Our Do It For The Love Foundation brings people to live concerts who are in an advanced stage of a life-threatening illness, as well as kids with severe challenges and veterans.
The best part of my work with the Foundation is meeting people — such as a young woman who has lymphoma. Although she was an honors student, her disease worsened to the point where she had to stop going to school. A friend of hers got in touch with us and they all flew down to our show as a surprise to her.
When I sat and talked with her, she told me she has lived with pain her whole life, and it is just getting worse and worse. She says she doesn’t have much time to live, but that she is worried about the world, and that if she could take away everyone’s pain even just for 15 minutes, she would take it on herself. I was so moved by hearing this 20-year-old woman say that, and by meeting her younger brother and his friend, who were both 17 and who had pulled off this whole plan to get her here through our Foundation.
Be Inkandescent: That’s a big theme for you, too, the idea of taking on the world’s problems as your own and trying to come up with solutions. What inspired you to have that as your mission?
Michael Franti: When I was a born, my birth mother carried me for nine months and then she held me for one hour and gave me up for adoption to the Franti family. They are second-generation Finnish-Americans who had three kids of their own.
My mother was a public school teacher in California for 30 years, and she was very much a leader in our house. She insisted that even though we were all very different — different heights, different colors, different views on the world — she would treat all of us the same, and we would all have the same opportunities to succeed.
I learned that ethic from her, and I believe it’s the same for the whole world. We all should share the same rights and should be given the same opportunities to succeed.
Be Inkandescent: Tell us more about the work you do traveling around the world to promote your message of love and social justice.
Michael Franti: I’ve played in prisons, schools, on the street, and I’ve found that it doesn’t matter where you play, it doesn’t matter what economic sphere people are in or what their education, culture, language, or religion is … people are the same when the music starts.
You look in their eyes and see smiles, people start to dance, they start to move, eventually people laugh, they cry, they hug their friends. Music really is a universal language. One of my favorite things to do is to travel and play with people of other cultures and other musical experiences that I didn’t know about.
Be Inkandescent: Did you ever think when you were a little kid that you would be doing this?
Michael Franti: It really was not an ambition of mine. Throughout my childhood, all I wanted to do was be a basketball player, and I eventually played basketball at the University of San Francisco. My dorm room was right above the campus radio station, so I’d hear these bass lines coming up through the floor all of the time, and at first it was kind of annoying. Then I started getting the thrill of music, hearing all of these different styles of music coming out of the campus radio station — hip-hop, punk rock, jazz. At 6 a.m. they would play Chinese music only. It was a great musical education.
So I bought a bass and copied what I heard coming up through the floor. Then I started writing lyrics, poems really, and performing these poems with other artists. The mixture of the melody and the chords and the portability of being able to go out onto the street or beach, wherever, and just sit there and play — that’s what I love about it.
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