Name: Michael Franti
Hometown: Oakland, Calif.
Occupation: Leader of the band Spearhead; peace activist; festival organizer (his Power to the Peaceful Festival has been held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park every year since 1999)
Sounds like: Funk, reggae, hip-hop, soul, pop and rock in a consciousness-raising blender
Latest project: Spearhead’s seventh studio album, “The Sound of Sunshine,” and a North American tour
Official wesite: http://michaelfranti.com
Once the angry young poet for hip-hop players Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy in the '80s, Michael Franti recharged his genre batteries in the '90s with the more sonically diverse Spearhead and hasn't looked back. Along the way, he's become an anomaly in our rampantly cynical '00s: an intellectual soul man whose philosophy holds more sway over him than his earnings reports. Franti and Spearhead's new joint, "The Sound of Sunshine" (out Sept. 21), is equally complex, asking us to cheer up in an era of economic and environmental disaster. Unlike Franti, most of us didn't almost die in the operating room. And those who did know how lucky we are to be alive—and in Franti's case, bid adieu to our shoes instead.
"The Sound of Sunshine" is an optimistic title for our dark times. Are you trying to lighten us up?
Right now is a time of great worry, with the slumping economy, climate change, oil spills, and wars that continue to rage. But the title of this record comes from my experience of having been in the hospital following a life threatening ruptured appendix operation. When I came back from my surgery, everything in my life took on new significance. My friends and my family, and even the smallest thing like opening the curtain and seeing the sun shine for the first time of the day, made me feel so grateful. This record is my attempt to bottle the feeling of optimism that we get when we see the sun.
Speaking of sunshine, you were an early proponent of artists greening their tours. Are recent environmental crises winning you new allies?
There are some who are trying to minimize the effects of disaster in the Gulf. I'm somebody who hopes that it maximizes our consciousness of just how vital it is that we invest in sustainable energy solutions today, so that we can more quickly wean ourselves off our fossil fuel addiction.
In your early career, you coined a great term: Hiphoprisy. Do you think hip-hop has lost its social contract in our Auto-Tuned new millennium?
There was a golden era of hip-hop when artists really expressed their consciousness in their music, which was a really positive thing. But today, I see that although the music is not as conscious as it once was, there are people like Russell Simmons who are trying to take the consciousness out of the lyrics and put them into effect in the real world. Which I think is more important.
Totally off-topic but still totally intriguing: I read that you have foresworn shoes.
I've been barefoot for 10 years. It started when I would play in countries where kids couldn't afford to wear shoes. I would be laughed at when I attempted to walk barefoot with them. So I decided to toughen up my feet by going barefoot for three days in San Francisco, and it stretched into ten years.
I've also read that you're a fan of giving them away to those who need them.
This year, we're working with a group called Soles4Souls, which provides shoes for kids in need in America, and throughout the world. We'll be doing 10 concerts to collect shoes this fall to correspond with their ten millionth pair of shoes that they give away.
So what's life without shoes like?
Being barefoot definitely has its ups and downs. But you learn to become conscious of every step you take.
Quickie Q&A: Michael Franti
A brush with death inspires the reggae-rocker to make his most optimistic music
By Scott ThillSpecial to Metromix
September 16, 2010
Name: Michael Franti
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