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Michael Franti Sunday Showcase

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April 17, 2016 - 12:24pm -- Del


For those of you that have heard my late night and early morning eclectic music shows, you know that I rarely do a show without a song by Michael Franti and Spearhead.  The band has been on my purview since 2002, before which, I had been familiar with Michael’s previous band The Disposable Heroes of HipHoprisy. 

KVMR played a huge role in bringing me back to Michael’s music… when I heard the song Stay Human one afternoon, I called the station to find out who that was.  I had recognized the voice and the lyrical stylings, but couldn’t put my finger on it.  When I learned that it was Michael Franti with a “new” band, Spearhead, I searched for their music.  As I listened to each album, I found few songs to which I couldn’t somehow relate either personally or ideologically.  The music became a soundtrack that helped me get through some of the most trying times of my life, and I am ever grateful to Michael and the band for continuing to produce socially relevant, conscious music that anyone can dance with.  The following is the script from today’s Sunday Showcase, featuring some of the lesser known songs of Michael Franti’s bands.

Stay Blessed,



Bringing the political to the personal while synthesizing an eclectic range of genres from jazz to hip hop to reggae to rock to soul to pop to punk to dancehall to afrobeat to bossanova, Michael Franti has been an enigma on the music scene for more than 25 years. In 1988, he partnered with Rono Tse in the Beatnigs in an experimental industrial punk music project combining poetry with unconventional instruments and sounds with intelligent and controversial lyrics.  Television, Drug of the Nation was their most well-known song.

Later in 1992, he founded the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprosy, another crossover band combining hip hop, punk and jazz. DHH re-recorded Television, along with several more social and politically charged songs such as the Language of Violence, which addressed homophobia and Satanic Reverses, directed at Exxon for their lack of responsibility over the environmental damage they had caused with the Valdez, as well as Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury, a powerful social commentary in which he indicts himself along with other Americans for failing to recognize the truly valuable things in life such as love, family, and the struggle of survival over the luxuries of modern life and the costs and extremes which are taken to obtain them. 

In 1994, Michael formed a new band, Spearhead, under Capitol records (having previously signed with Alternative Tentacles, Jello Biafra’s indie label) and Spearhead Home was born.  Home was very centered on urban life with songs about race, homelessness, poverty, basketball, music, loss, and HIV.  However, one fun song stands out from the political commentary... Red Beans and Rice.

Spearhead’s next album in 1997, Chocolate Supahighway, was very Hip-Hop oriented, and carried Michael’s social messages as well as some fun songs, one being a twist on the classic Wayfaring Stranger, and the controversial Ganja Babe.

After a disagreement with Capitol Records’ idea of creative direction and politics, Michael and Spearhead broke their contract and re-formed as Michael Franti and Spearhead under their own label, BooBoo Wax records.  The first album in 2000 under this new label was Stay Human, a project in his words, were a message:  "Half the record is songs about what's happening in the world right now, and the other half is about how we cope with it as people who are concerned about what's going on", he said. "This specter of war, intimidation, this nation vs. the rest of the world, it wears us out. Half the record is a healthy dose of venting anger about that, and the other half is about how do we hold on to our spirituality, our community and our connectedness to each other.”  Stay Human had fictional radio segments about the day preceding the execution of a (fictional) falsely accused death row prisoner, interspersed with the songs.  The album mixed genres and influences into a highly danceable and emotional experience that has come to be known as Michael’s (Now dubbed brother Soulshine) trademark in music.[1]

About Do Ya Love, Michael says “When I moved to San Francisco in 1984, at that time the AIDS crisis was really hitting it hard and I would meet people in the music
and arts community that were gay and they would say to me “when I came out
my family abandoned me and now I have AIDS and my family does not want to have
anything to do with me.” I was thinking, God, they are your family, how could
they turn their back on you when you are dying? I wrote this song, 
Do you
Love? and the lyrics say “It’s not about who you choose to love, it’s
about do you choose to love. Will you choose to love?” I think my political
views always come within that framework, It’s not about left or right, it’s
about, are people’s needs being taken care of. Or the needs of the natural

In 2002, Michael recorded a solo album, Songs from the Front Porch, with songs from Stay Human, Chocolate Supahighway, and his following album Everyone Deserves Music, along with originals not found anywhere else.  The Stay Human song Oh My God, was softened, with a change from the angry tone of the lyrics at the end of the original on Stay Human saying “makes me so mad I want to bomb an institution” to “Makes me so mad I want a peaceful revolution”.   This album continued with songs about emotional and spiritual survival in the jungle of contemporary society. The song “Oh My God, first featured on Stay Human, was a subject of the book Entertaining Fear: Rhetoric and the Political Economy of Social Control by Catherine Chaput in which the author uses the song as an example of the intersections of politics, economics, and culture.[3]

Their next album, Everyone Deserves Music, kept the same high energy crossover mix of Stay Human, but was less politically charged and more personal than ever.  The politics remained with songs like the anthem “Bomb the World”, and We Don’t Stop, but the album was filled with positive songs, like “Love Invincible” and “Never too Late”.

In 2005, Michael released another solo album, Love Kamikaze.  The music had R&B, Soul and Hip-Hop flavors, with heavy, sensual bass.  Many of the songs were about romantic love, but a few, including re-recordings of Every Single Soul and Stay Human kept the tradition of deeply personal songs. 

In 2006, Michael released a documentary featuring himself and an entourage of 13 friends travelled to Iraq, Palestine, and Israel, called I Know I’m Not Alone, about the human experience of the war.  Michael did well in avoiding his own views of the politics of the region, and instead, showcased the experiences of everyday people from a taxi driver, to a rock band, to soldiers, to Israelis and Palestinians who met illegally to grieve their losses in the conflict together, and a visit to a hospital in Iraq.  The 2006 album, Yell Fire was written based on those experiences.  Says Michael in an interview, “It comes from that expression, ‘Don’t yell fire in a crowded theatre,’”  “’Don’t alarm people unnecessarily.’ But I feel like right now we need to be yelling fire, because there’s an absence of dissent. Ever since September 11th, this administration and the media have done everything to convince us that dissent is unpatriotic, when in fact it’s what this country was founded on.”[4]

Michael and Spearhead’s next album, All Rebel Rockers in 2008 brought Michael Franti and Spearhead their first top 40 hit with Say Hey, I Love You, a danceable pop song that was featured first in the TV show Weeds, then on films Valentines Day, Ramona and Beezus, The Back Up Plan, and Bucky Larson.  The album was a heavy reggae/pop blend, and featured a range of songs that departed from the anger infused in previous albums.  The song Nobody Right, Nobody Wrong was a little known, but especially powerful anthem of which Michael says “It was hard. I remember leaving the experience and feeling there is no justice in war. Speaking to people on all sides of the situation who had suffered incredible loss, and I wrote a song about it called Nobody Right, Nobody Wrong. Because it is very easy to choose sides and say, I am on the side of these people with these views. As soon as you do that you make enemies with the other side. The thing is that we are not going to come to solutions in the Middle East by choosing sides and drawing lines in the sand. We are going to come to solutions for the problems there when we consider the needs of the other side.” [5]

The year 2010 brought another shift, with the band signing again with Capitol Records and the album Sound of Sunshine.  This album was decidedly a pop album, drawing more radio play and new fans that previously had not heard of the band.  Again, the album topped Billboard at Number 17 that year.  Of the phrase the Sound of Sunshine, Michael says “Last fall my appendix ruptured while I was on tour. I got really sick. My stomach, my whole abdomen was infected, and I had to have major surgery and cleaning out of my whole insides. As I was coming back from that surgery I’d go to the window every day and I’d look out into the sky and see if the sun was shining. If it was, I’d feel this inspiration, like yes, it’s gonna be a great day. And I thought to myself, wow, if I could bottle that feeling for people, that sense of optimism when you first see the sun in the morning, what would it sound like? So that’s what we tried to do, is make songs that had that feeling of being in the sun, and also that newness that I felt, I guess a new appreciation of my family, my friends, of food, of playing music, all the simple things in my life that became more and more important as each day of my coming back from this life threatening illness.  Of the song Gloria, Michael says “Gloria is a song that I wrote for guardian angels. Not the people you see at parades in New York City on the subway, but guardian angels in our life, those people that look out for us, or the ancestors who are in our life who are watching over us, or whatever people believe are their guardian angels. When I was in the hospital, I had lot of them, the nurses that were there, the doctors, my friends, my family, my girlfriend, my kids. And so I really wanted to write a song that was about my gratitude for those guardian angels.”[6]


2013 brought another chart topper, All People.  The songs followed suit from the last two albums with the lack of angry, political lyrics and instead focused on not just coping with the world around us, but with love for ones’ family, friends, and self.  Michael recorded a documentary based on the song 11:59, of which he said 11:59:  I'm soon releasing a documentary called 11:59 about three people who have inspired me in my life. One is a midwife in the Phillipines who has set up midwifery clinics in many countries around the world and has brought thousands of babies into the world in families who can't afford medical care. Another is a man who's living with very advanced stages of ALS. He was a fan of mine and he came to a concert. I met him and his family and I was really moved that even though his body was slowly becoming more paralyzed, he was able to find this amazing spirit to persevere and keep a sense of humor. Third is a man in Indonesia who has been reforesting places that have been clear cut with bamboo. He's working with locals to find ways to earn a living and finding new technologies to make products out of bamboo.”[7]


In 2014, Michael recorded a single, Same As It Ever Was, as a response to the division in the nation by the killings of unarmed black citizens by police, of which he said   "I wrote the song to express my feelings after the grand jury dismissals in the Eric Garner and Mike Brown killings by police officers.  This song is a call to action that I hope inspires dialog and contributes in a small way to much needed change in our country today.”[8]

And now, to be released in June 2016, Michael Franti and Spearhead bring us two singles from their latest album, Soulrocker. The song Once a Day was written after his son Ade was diagnosed with a kidney disease in 2014, and talks of the importance of letting those in our lives know how much we love them.  In his latest internet video Why I Make Music, Michael explains “Right Now, the world needs music that speaks out against hate and violence and speaks up in support of the planet and supports justice for all humanity and also makes you dance”  “My definition of a soulrocker is a person who lives from the heart and who has compassion for all with a tenacious enthusiasm for music, for life and for the planet” “ I believe that the world needs music right now more than ever that promotes positivity and combats hate and violence and that builds community across nations and religious differences and helps people to have fun and have that sense of purpose be a part of every cell in their body”  The album, available for pre-sale at MichaelFranti.com, gives us another sneak peek of Soulrocker with the single Crazy For You.[9]

[1] http://web.archive.org/web/20090108155821/http://www.spearheadvibrations.com:80/band.htm.

[2] Interview with David Kupfer, 2011

[3] Chaput, Catherine (2010-01-01). Entertaining Fear: Rhetoric and the Political Economy of Social Control

[4] Relix Magazine Michael Franti Is Not Alone, Relix Revisited by Wes Orshoski on October 21, 2010

[5] Interview with David Kupfer, 2011


[6] http://www.spearhead-home.com/News.php?memberlist=NewsResult&t=864&url=I...

[7]KRISTEN PHILIPKOSKI 6/3/14 Interview

[8] https://www.facebook.com/michaelfranti/videos/10152449523026360/

[9] https://www.facebook.com/michaelfranti/videos/10153397590591360/