Two years ago Michael Franti decided to ‘walk his talk’ and traveled to the war zones of Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This wasn’t a USO green zone sponsored visit – Franti and his team organized a trip that would take him to the core of the red-zoned, war torn neighborhoods of Baghdad, the West Bank and Gaza Strip with his guitar, video cameras and the intent to experience first hand the human cost of war.
Out of this journey, Franti has created a compelling documentary film titled I Know I’m Not Alone and a searing, reflective new album of original songs titled Yell Fire! recorded in Kingston, Jamaica and Franti’s hometown of San Francisco, California.
Ironically, Franti’s journey to the war-ravaged Middle East inspired his most uplifting set of songs to date. He explains, “The thing that I found when I was in war zones was that nobody wants to hear songs about war. They want to hear songs about connection to people, and songs about love and life, songs that make them dance.” It was legendary Island Records founder and Franti cohort, Chris Blackwell, who suggested that Kingston, Jamaica would provide the perfect backdrop for translating these impulses to tape.
The Kingston sessions brought in the godfathers of riddem Sly and Robbie on live drums and bass, percussionist Sticky Thompson along with Spearhead bassist Carl Young and guitarist Dave Shul. The tracks were recorded at Anchor Studios with Mario Caldato Jr and Robert Carranza (Beastie Boys, Jack Johnson) engineering. Franti continued to write and record upon his return home to San Francisco before handing mixing duties over to Brian Malouf (Eric B, Ziggy Marley, Pearl Jam).
Franti has always spoken his mind through his music: from his early punk rock band Beatnigs, to the industrial-noise of Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, to the thinking-man’s hip-hop of Spearhead. “In the past, we’ve touched on a lot of genres of music,” Franti says, “but this is an album where all those things have been rolled into one. I feel this is our best record yet.” Songs like ‘Yell Fire!’ and ‘Time To Go Home’ are calls to action: in the streets, at home, and in our own hearts. Other songs such as “I Know I’m Not Alone,” an uplifting blast of hope, “One Step Closer To You” featuring a soulful backing vocal by Pink, and the beautiful “Is Love Enough?’ featuring reggae star Gentleman, tap into the album’s compassionate side.
While seeing Yell Fire! to completion back in San Francisco, Franti began editing the hundreds of hours of footage from his travels in the Middle East. What emerged was an intimate telling of how war affects the individual: the cab driver, the soldier, the aspiring young musician. It was during this process that the film and album became inextricably linked. Franti recalls “my editing studio for the movie was upstairs and my recording studio was downstairs, so I would constantly alternate from one project to another. The process was like a catharsis for me, moving through this journey I had made.”
In addition to his groundbreaking recordings and globally acclaimed live concerts, Franti is a renowned speaker for social justice and human rights. He has lectured at many of this country’s top universities, including Yale, Georgetown and Stanford, and shared the stage with the likes of Mohammad Ali, Bill Clinton, Michael Moore, Ralph Nader, and Gloria Steinem. In 2005, Franti became the first recording artist since Johnny Cash to perform at the maximum security, level 4 section of Folsom State Prison.
Live On Stage:
I've just recently started listening to Michael Franti and his politically charged (at times) brand of roots, rock, reggae. Check out this clip from a music festival in Ireland - someone might want to start making lot shirts with slogan similar to this Red Stripe commercial - Michael Franti Helping White People Dance. Here he is with "East Meets West"....
Franti has been a staple of the jam scene for awhile now, though I'm sure he reaches far beyond that too. Here's a few shows for your downloading pleasure....
Michael Franti & Spearhead - 2007-03-16 - 9:30 Club - Washington D.C.
Michael Franti and Spearhead - 2006-10-12 - McDonald Theater - Eugene, OR
Michael Franti & Spearhead - 2005-07-21 - Prospect Park Bandshell - Brooklyn, NY
This song may not make a grand socio-political statement, but it's just a great summer tune - here's Michael Franti with "Everyone Deserves Music"....
Got a few more you might want to check out....
I Know I'm Not Alone
Rock The Nation
Time To Go Home
To find out how Michael Franti is feelin head on over to his official website.
Thursday, May 31, 2007