Michael Franti isn’t a typical musician. He has no desire to be strobing across television sets or radio stations. Despite releasing over 8 studio albums in the past 20 years with his band Spearhead, three of which made it high up on the charts, he doesn’t seem to care about genres
Franti’s music has changed over the years from punk rock, to acoustic-pop, all the way to his current hip-hop grooves with his band Spearhead. His sound blends funk, reggae, blues, and jazz, but the words he has written all seem to be twisted with the underlying morals and political ties in which he believes.
“I really love that there is this sense of one mind together, and we try to bring that when we play our shows,” Franti tells encore in preparation for the Soulshine Festival, which lands on the riverfront this weekend. “It’s like when everyone puts their hands up in the air, or sings along with the song, or they just jump around. It is this beautiful sense of oneness and connectivity that you somehow can have with 10,000 people. There is nothing else in the world that really does that in any other part of our life. It’s a sense of unity only found in music.”
Franti’s music has spread worldwide, and he and Spearhead have played at more festivals then you could count on your fingers and toes—not to mention The Green Ball, The Peace Ball, and the Rock the Vote Party for President Obama’s inauguration. He also is host the Soulshine Music Festival in Bali, where music, yoga, and awareness for the environment is dedicated to sustainability for Bali and the world (the festival also benefits Bumi Sehat, natural birthing clinics in Bali and Aceh, Indonesia). The funds that are raised will be contributed to the Green School’s Indonesian Scholarship Fund, which provides free education for Indonesian children.
The art of yoga and all of its physical, mental, and spiritual practices seemed to step into Franti’s life at the perfect time. A day after the 9/11 terrorist attack, Franti decided he was in need of relaxation in life, between busy schedules from his day-to-day tour. Thus, yoga opened a different mindset.
“When you are constantly riding in a bus from one city to the next, eating bad restaurant food, and staying up too late to get enough sleep, you get worn out,” Franti explains. “So I went into this yoga class and immediately, afterward, I felt way better. I mean, I felt so relaxed, and my sore back even felt relieved. I could really focus.”
After 13 years of practicing daily, he wanted to turn on fans to the practice as well. It seemed a cohesive fit: the combination of Franti’s mellow tones with the body-stretching, flexible and mind-releasing workout.
“Over the years, I started inviting people that I had met at my sound checks, or wherever I was, to join me in yoga later in the day,” Franti explains. “Just last year we were playing at Red Rocks in Colorado, and we decided to invite the fans to come in early and do a little yoga with us before I played. Then 1,200 people showed up before the doors were open, and we just decided, ‘Damn, next summer let’s just do this at every stop.’”
Thus began Soulshine. Franti’s brings yogi extraordinaire Seane Corn to teach the various positions and lead the group.
Outside of his music career, Franti is also a strong advocate for peace in the Middle East and is an award-winning humanitarian; in 2001 he received the Domestic Human Rights Award by Global Exchange, a large international nongovernmental organization based in San Francisco for his efforts to find peace.
“This was one of the hardest experiences in my life,” he admits. “I have a lot of empathy for soldiers. When I was in Iraq ,I would play for the Iraqi citizens in the daytime and US soldiers at night,” Franti states. “I visited hospitals where children had been just blown apart, and it made me so angry.”
Franti questioned his country and its lack of empathy for another group of people, especially children. In the documentary Franti’s stress is apparent on his face as he walks into a room filled with soldiers. “Bomb the World” cuts the silence in the room, and strikes a chord with all of the soldiers listening: “We can chase down all our enemies / bring them to their knees / We can bomb the world to pieces / but we can’t bomb it into peace / Whoa, we may even find a solution / to hunger and disease / We can bomb the world to pieces / but we can’t bomb it into peace.”
“The thing is that people all have different reasons for going into the military,” Franti says. “Some people are in it because they really want to help people, and some go because they want to be patriotic Americans and do whatever they can to support their country. Ultimately, almost every soldier—whether it is an Iraqi or an American soldier—deep down they all want to end the war and be at peace.”
Every song Franti sings either hits listeners hard in the chest or brings them to their feet. His lyrics are as sharp as an arrow and as heavy as a cannonball. He’s been referred to as a modern-day combination of Bob Marley and Mandela because he sings from the heart.
“I really love artists that have a story to tell, and I really love when they can tell a story that people can dance to,” Franti exclaims. “That is why I love Bob Marley; he was a great connector. He reached out and touched people around the world. He was universally the most loved musician ever. He had that ability to bring together people of all different walks of life.”
Franti may be internationally famous now, but with a level head and an open heart, he seems to remain as humble as a street performer. Still, he isn’t immune to just letting go and rocking out for the sake of its release, either.
“There are times when you want to forget about what you are doing with life,” he explains, “and there are times when you just want to go inside yourself to just get out some pain or sadness. There are times when you want to party or make love, and there is music for those things as well.”
Music to Franti and likely to the majority of his fans comes from his ability to relate to the little moments in life that matter most. He doesn’t take them for granted. His heightened sense of awareness is as important to his reputation as the fame of being a mastermind guitarist.
“All of us have a limited time on this earth,” he says. “There are opportunities all of us have to try and make the world a little bit better place then it was when we first got here. I’m not saying you have to join the Peace Corp; I just think we each have a specific opportunity to use our talents to help each other—whether it is working in the community or with your family. If you want to change the world everywhere, start anywhere!”
Featuring Michael Franti and Spearhead, Soja, Brett Dennen, Trevor Hall
Fri., July 25th • All ages show
Doors, 3:30 p.m. Show: 7 p.m.
Battleship Park • #1 Battleship Rd.