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Leading the way

Ben FurtadoMichael Franti rocks the mike in March at Center for the Arts.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Until 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, hip-hop songwriter Michael Franti literally didn’t have a spare minute to talk.

A half-hour interview arranged a week before for 9:30 a.m. was pushed to 2 p.m. because Franti’s cell phone was inoperable on a remote stretch of highway in Oregon. The time was changed again to 4:30 p.m. because his manager thought the Spearhead leader would be in his Ashland hotel room by then.



But Franti couldn’t be found at 4:30 p.m.; he was running around putting out flames before they became fires.




The hip-hop funk group Spearhead is in the middle of a West Coast tour and has a Grass Valley gig Wednesday.

When the tour is over, Franti will jump on a plane March 1 to begin a two-week tour of Australia. When Franti comes back to the States, he’ll begin an East Coast tour.

With three back-to-back tours, lots of media people want a chunk of his time.

By 8 p.m. Tuesday, Franti finally took a break for the phone interview. He would be on the phone at least three more hours before calling it a day – he had interviews scattered across the West Coast and Australia.

Franti’s in constant demand, touring around the world at least nine months of the year.

“I’m tired all the time,” he admitted,”but I love what I do.”

The Australian tour will be his second visit there this year. He completed his third tour in Europe in November, and he’s been through the West Coast (including Grass Valley to all-ages full houses) at least three other times in 18 months.

Not bad for someone who didn’t set out to be a performer.

In the mid-1980s, Franti was a communications major who played basketball at the University of San Francisco. He didn’t have firm career plans; he thought he might eventually work for a community radio station.

“I never imagined this would be my life,” said Franti, now a full-time musician with no time for basketball.

Franti got his start in this business in college. That’s when he added music to his poems in 1986, hoping more listeners might hear his words. His hypothesis was correct; he attracted a loyal fan base at small clubs in San Francisco.

Franti’s songs comment on whatever political and social issues are close to his heart at the moment. That’s been consistent when he was with the Beatnigs (1987-90), Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy (1990-94) and, since 1994, Spearhead.

Songs on Spearhead’s third CD, “Live at the Baobab,” advocated prison reform. Its fourth CD, “Stay Human,” released in May, argued against the death penalty.

Franti is working on a CD inspired by the events surrounding Sept. 11.

“During this time, many of us have gone through a lot of pain,” he said. “When it first happened, I wanted to spend time with my feelings of sadness and think about my opinions. I want to write about Sept. 11, stand up for what’s right, and write some uplifting songs.

“Today, I feel it’s wrong to be engaging in a war of terrorism,” Franti said. “I want to engage in a war against militarism, period. George Bush said, ‘If you’re not with us, you’re on the side of terrorists.’ He’s wrong. I’m not with him, I’m not with terrorism. I’m with peace.”

Franti, who for years has advocated worldwide peace via his songs and on his Web site (www.spearheadvibrations.com), abhors political statements that justify American-sponsored military action done elsewhere under the pretense of fighting terrorism.

Franti is grateful he can share his opinions onstage throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Europe and Cuba.

“I appreciate that people want to hear what I want to say,” Franti said. “It’s really a blessing. I meet people all over the world in their corner, working to make the world a better place.”

Know and Go

WHAT: Michael Franti and Spearhead

WHEN: Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.; doors open at 8 p.m.

WHERE: Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley

ADMISSION: $20. Tickets at BriarPatch, Herb Shop Records, Harmony Books and at the door.

INFORMATION: 274-8384 or 583-2801


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