I was perfectly content arriving a little late as the opening act, Michael Franti and Spearhead, was largely going to be a waste of time until I could see who I came to see.
With no basis in fact, I wrote Franti off – having assigned the “reggae” tag to his music – not my favorite genre.
All but his most ardent fans know Franti primarily from his 2008 and 2012 efforts, “Say Hey (I Love You)” or “The Sound of Sunshine,” but there’s a lot more to this guy and like any artist his background defines his work.
Franti was born in 1966 in Oakland, CA. His dad was African-American and Native American, his mom an amalgamation of German, Irish and French. At birth, she feared her family wouldn’t accept Michael so she put him up for adoption.
Mull that over for a minute.
It’s 1966 in San Francisco, about anything was cool there even then. And look at his mom’s own mixed heritage, but she painfully gave up her son over a fear of a lack of acceptance.
Franti was immediately taken in by a white, professional couple who had three biological kids but adopted two African-American sons. Franti was welcomed, lovingly, into a mixed race family, one that they created with intent.
It was in high school and college that Franti became friends with a Priest who taught him creative writing skills, how to put thoughts to paper and leading to his exploration of poetry. He bought a guitar and started writing songs, inspired by the hip hop, punk, and reggae that was being played on the campus radio station at the University of SF.
His professional career started in 1986 with his first band, The Beatnigs, playing industrial punk and spoken word. They broke up and he formed The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, as Franti’s anger years set in. He was writing highly politically charged lyrics that railed against world’s injustice and social issues of the day. They garnered limited mainstream attention but they were asked by U2 to open for their Zoo TV Tour.
Hero’s disbanded, Franti formed Spearhead and after 20 years of struggle became an overnight success with the release of All Rebel Rockers and the single “Say Hey (I Love You)”.
It had a slow start, but Franti actually credits Midwest radio stations and fans for making that song what it was, a year after its release.
I can’t document it for sure, but I think the first time he came to our area was a 2006 appearance at “Tickarusa” aka Wakarusa.
By 2010 his songs were getting play in commercials, movies, TV shows and “The Sound of Sunshine” became Frant’s most commercially viable project.
“My appendix ruptured suddenly in the middle of a tour and I ended up in the hospital for eight days while they figured out what was wrong with me,” recalls Franti. “I almost died and I wrote many of these songs coming out of that experience while I was in the hospital for another week or so after that. During that time, I really took a moment to prioritize what’s truly important in my life — and in the end, that’s really about the people who I love. Even in that hospital, I could laugh with the people I love, cry with them, and start to find the sun again.”
While his trademark, socially conscious lyrics are still firmly in place, Frante’s cranking out some really positive, happy music. It’s not as politically in your face, he’s not the angry young man he once was but still very much the poet and activist he’s always been. And man, what a fresh, clean sound. Positive messages, hope, love and joy, all make for a highly marketable, listenable album and something you don’t want to miss.
Now, he’s touring for the release of “All People.” It’s the best possible combination of reggae groove with a side order of folk, rock, hip hop, pop, jazz and funk
To summarize Franti and his music, no one says it better than Franti himself:
“Music is sunshine. Like sunshine, music is a powerful force that can instantly and almost chemically change your entire mood. Music gives us new energy and a stronger sense of purpose.”
“Music is something you can’t hold in your hands, smell it, taste it or even see it, yet somehow just coming together and feeling these little vibrations that tickle our eardrums can somehow lift us all up out of our most difficult moments in life to unimaginable heights.”
Come out to the Crossroads on the on 27th and see who I consider the most positive, socially conscious artist in music today. No nude girls swinging from “wrecking balls,” no twerkfest, no GaGa-tation or boy band BS here.
Just great sound and happy music with a positive spin.
All you need is love.