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Music » Sound Stories & Interviews

A Real Political Party: Michael Franti & Spearhead balance activism and music

Guess which one of these guys isn't a member of the Shoe Club for Men.It's cutting late into a Friday afternoon in early May and



Guess which one of these guys isn't a member of the Shoe Club for Men.It's cutting late into a Friday afternoon in early May and Michael Franti is preparing to skip halfway around the world to Europe in only a matter of hours. The purpose: promote the forthcoming Michael Franti & Spearhead record, All Rebel Rockers, set to drop in September and, well, just be Michael Franti, an ambassador of peace and funky music.

Franti is a guy who raps about ending the war, sings about the search for social justice and takes jabs at the Bush administration whenever possible, but he's not as angry as his music might suggest. Anyone who's got down at a Spearhead show knows this. And Franti says All Rebel Rockers is hardly a lament of current times or a bitch session about what's wrong in the world.

"Well, it's our most danceable record that we've ever made. In terms of the themes of the songs, it's about trying to stay positive in a time when you turn on the news and it's like the world has gone...(makes explosion sound) ... with all this talk of elections, natural disasters, and the economy going to hell," Franti says.

The lanky (he's 6 feet 6 inches tall and played basketball at the University of San Franciso), dread-headed musician and activist was once a self-admitted "F the system" kind of guy, but now seems to exude a sober, and perhaps less angry take on the world's current political and social landscape. Some of his present-day world view has been shaped by his time traveling into Baghdad and embattled areas of Israel and Palestine as seen in his documentary, I Know I'm Not Alone.

"When I look back at going there, I think, 'Was I f**king out of my mind?'" Franti says laughingly (he laughs a lot) of his time in the Middle East.

In the film, Franti speaks with civilians and soldiers on each side of the conflict, while also playing his guitar for whoever will listen. The film paints Franti somewhat as an overzealous activist, but also as a man who genuinely believes in what he sings about.

Those less familiar with Franti & Spearhead likely think of the band as a loud-mouthed gang of rabble rousers with more focus on political banter than actually playing music, but whether on stage or in the studio, the group is solidly anchored by stellar musicianship. On 2006's Yell Fire!, the band showcases a range of styles encompassing the familiar Franti hip-hop romps, as well as a few cuts with intros that could fool somebody into thinking he or she was checking out a new U2 cut.

The evolving Spearhead that we see today seems to be grasping a handle on tackling social and political issues, while also trying to throw a hell of a party.

"When I'm in my bedroom writing a song on my guitar, I wonder if that song is going to work in front of 10,000 people, and at the same time, can it work for 10 people," Franti says. "When I was writing the song 'Yell Fire,' for example, I knew I needed a chorus that someone with a beer in one hand and a lighter in the other hand can sing along to."

Anyone who's heard that song knows the chorus is beer-friendly: "Yell fire, yo, yo, yo, yo."

There will likely be no shortage of lighters or beers when Franti and company take the stage at the Les Schwab Amphitheater on Friday along with Boise's Built to Spill (an act that could probably headline its own large-scale show in Bend) and that should be just fine with Franti.

"This is music for people like me who like to throw their hands up in the air and sing along, even if it's out of tune," says Franti - who actually does sing in tune.

Michael Franti & Spearhead, Built to Spill
Friday, May 23, 6:30pm, Les Schwab Amphitheater, 344 SW Shevlin Hixon Dr. $35, tickets available at the Ticket Mill or at ticketmaster.com.

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