The other day I got the new Michael Franti & Spearhead album in the mail. I knew—once again—that I’d enjoy the music and words inside. It’s called “The Sound of Sunshine.”
KCRW has a long and close history with Michael Franti, going back to the 80’s with his first group, the industrial punk band The Beatnigs, and even more so with his next group, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. I was stuck on the air on April 29, 1992 when the LA riots broke out, and I remember playing his music during those turbulent moments. It was a good soundtrack to what people were feeling then.
Later, I helped organize a show with Spearhead in the fall of 1994, along with Manu Dibango, Cesaria Evora, and a French gypsy group………at the Barker Hanger at the Santa Monica Airport. What a great—and underattended—show that was!
There is something so life-affirming and real about Michael Franti’s music. His lyrics rival anything that Dylan or Bob Marley ever penned. They are engaged lyrics, yet never eclipse the human warmth and joy of his music. His live shows are legendary and unforgettable.
Franti is also a universal artist. From Indonesia to Europe to Brazil, he’s done shows that have made him a favorite there. He writes about things that involve all of us human beings, our frustrations, our small triumphs, our losses, our joys.
And these are never sappy new-age affirmations. There is always edge and commitment in his music, lending it universal substance that touches us all.
Strong political and social commitments are present in all of his music. A few years ago, Franti went on a three-week tour of the Middle East, including Iraq and the Palestinian territories, and made a documentary about his experience. Of that trip he said, “”This film came out of my frustration with watching the nightly news and hearing generals, politicians, and pundits explaining the political and economic cost of the war in the Middle East, without ever mentioning the human cost. I wanted to hear about the war by the people affected by it most: doctors, nurses, poets, artists, soldiers, and my personal favorite, musicians.”
The new cd, “The Sound of Sunshine,” carries on the spiritual sound of Michael Franti & Spearhead. I love his powerful yet graceful music and the way it makes me think and feel, and I bet I’m not alone among KCRW deejays in feeling this way.
- Tom Schnabel