Franti’s music combines hip-hop, social conscience
In spite of a probable war with Iraq, songwriter and peace activist Michael Franti is optimistic.
Acknowledging that this is a difficult time, he stressed last week: “We’re very lucky to be alive because during times of upheaval, there are opportunities for great change.
“People today are feeling really left out; the government is so whooped up in this war fervor. We feel like we don’t have a voice,” Franti continued. “People ask me what can one person do, I don’t have a great answer except one person can come together with other people. That’s how our voice can be heard; that’s how Gandhi did it. Have millions of voices coming together, ‘we don’t want war.'”
Franti, whose current music style can be described as hip-hop, was sorry he would be on the East Coast during the San Francisco peace march last Saturday. That’s the type of event the hip-hop singer readily supports.
But not this time, because the Bay Area musician was at Yale University, discussing music as an instrument for social change in an hour-long presentation.
“I’ve spoken quite a bit at universities but never before the hallowed halls of Yale. I’m a little intimidated, but I’ll try to be myself,” admitted Franti, 36, who performs about nine months a year at sold-out concerts. “I’ll bring my acoustic guitar to Yale, do things a cappella style. I don’t always feel comfortable getting up and speaking before a crowd. I like to do my songs; they speak for the things I have to say.”
Franti’s heart, though, was at San Francisco’s march and rally.
“But I feel blessed to be on the path I’m on and to have opportunities to try to inspire people in other parts of the world. It’s a blessing,” Franti said and added with a laugh, “This is what I do, this is my calling, I
don’t know who called me but it’s my calling.”
Whatever music group he has been a part of, whether the Beatnigs from 1987-90, Disposable Heroes of HipHoprisy from 1990-94 or Spearhead since 1994, Franti has fervently addressed political and social issues, incluing prison reform, AIDS, tolerance for all peoples, war and prevention of old-growth tree logging.
At his concerts and on his own Web site, http://www.spearheadvibrations. com, Franti encourages grass-roots groups and individuals to openly discuss current issues.
“The main message now is that peace in the world starts in our own hearts,” Franti said, “and my goal is to encourage the world to become a place that being human and natural and spiritual takes priority over military and corporate and imperialism.”
Franti, who majored in communications and played basketball at the University of San Francisco in the mid-1980s, never dreamt of becoming a musical sage. His dreams then were of playing ball professionally. When he started writing political poetry in 1986, however, Franti discovered his words would reach more listeners if he added music.
If he hadn’t chosen a musical career in 1987, Franti would probably still be employed in a job which allows him to make a difference.
“What would I do if I wasn’t in music?,” Franti asked rhetorically, “Maybe be a yoga person to help people learn about themselves, find peace for themselves.”
Franti doesn’t take his fame lightly. He says he’s lucky to be able to affect others through his music.
That’s what he hopes will happen at his concert Wednesday in Nevada City.
“Expect an opportunity to come together with other people who care about peace in the world. Power to the peaceful,” he concluded.
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