A catalyst for change 

Michael Franti’s goal is to make the revolution irrestistible

Although Mother Nature was doing her best to keep concert goers inside, about 400 people gathered in front of the WSSF Mainstage on Sunday, the closing day of the festival. Maybe it was the cold temperatures and blowing rain that drew the audience in tight, but more likely it was the charming force that is Michael Franti and Spearhead.

"My goal is to make the revolution irresistible," says Franti.

Revolution? The soft-spoken Franti hardly seems the type to call people to arms or to lead a coup as he sits feeding his young baby. But looking back on Franti's career, one finds a history of outspoken political and social activism with such groups as Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.

And to read the description of Spearhead's latest effort, Stay Human , an entire story built around the death penalty, it was almost difficult to believe that it was the same man dancing lightly around the WSSF stage, surrounded by performers blowing bubbles and walking on stilts.

"I want to leave people with a feeling of being uplifted and not depressed, felling like the world is a terrible place. I want to give people the inspiration to get involved in the world around them," says Franti.

That attitude began at a young age for the African-American boy adopted into a white family with an alcoholic father. Despite college basketball aspirations, Franti found music was the key to expressing his ever-growing anger. His earlier efforts were very angst-driven and highly charged with negative energies.

"I finally got to the point where I was tired of it. I was tired of having people coming to my shows and leaving feeling pissed off. There's lots of things in the world to feel pissed off about."

The music of Spearhead is a sweet blend of soul, funk and hip hop. Indeed, it had young and old smiling in the resort’s cobblestone streets. Did they know that they were dancing along to lyrics about AIDS and poverty as well as joy and love? Franti's sound is almost mainstream for a reason, to draw people in, to make them lean their ear just a little closer. His ideology, however, is anything but mainstream.

"I have a respect for all pop music in all forms. I remember when I was a kid, and I would love certain songs, and they would help get me through times in my life when I had a crush in fourth grade on a girl and I couldn't go talk to my parents about it. I would listen to songs that would make me feel those emotions that weren't otherwise allowed to come out. So I appreciate what Brittany Spears or 'N'Sync means in the hearts of young people.

"What I don't like though is how the industry as a whole takes advantage of the vulnerability of young people. Music brings out the vulnerability in these people and then the industry says 'Ok, come buy the T-shirt and let's shove the hamburger down your throat and make sure you get the soft drink that all goes along with the movie. I don't like that exploitation. I do appreciate how mainstream music has power."

The Internet too has become a powerful tool for reaching the people and Franti uses it to its potential, often frequenting his own Web site. Franti says he could never read, let alone answer, all the correspondence he receives in the mail, but now leaves messages for his fans almost daily on the net.

"It helps to bridge the community of people who are concerned with what we do. On the site there's a page for poetry where people share their work and just discuss what's up with the world. And of course as an artist I realize that my music doesn't get played on every station or in every part of the globe. Through the Web, it's a chance to have our music heard via downloading on sites such as Napster and file sharing. It's helped us to get to places we never would have before. I make my music for everybody and it's gratifying to know that it's finally accessible and reaching those who want it."

While in Whistler for three shows, Franti was also busy with another form of media: video. Editing is almost complete on the music video for Rock the Nation. A quick glimpse at the screen and you'll think you're seeing the angry Michael Franti of old. However, don't miss the tongue cleverly placed in cheek.

"It's a take off on the movie Taxi Driver. The main character gets fed up with the world and decides to go on a rampage. He's armed himself with 20 different guns all over his body in the movie, but in our video he's got microphones. He expresses his rage against the world by using sound... I think music can be a catalyst for change."

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