The Warrior-Poet: Musician Michael Franti Returns to Flagstaff
Musician Michael Franti has built a career on blending catchy tunes with socially conscious lyrics. He’s currently touring the world with his band Spearhead, and tonight they perform in Flagstaff. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius caught up with Franti by a scratchy phone connection while he waited for his plane to take off from the Calgary International Airport.
Ryan Heinsius: Throughout your career, you’ve been active in so many social justice causes, and continue to be very outspoken with your lyrics. What did spark that interest in being so topical with your music?
Michael Franti: I make music for one reason, and that’s that I care a lot about people. I just grew up around a lot of diversity and it’s led me to be compassionate to others, and also to look out for the underdog. And so, that really informs all of my music.
RH: You wrote and recorded “Same As It Ever Was” after the death of Eric Garner last year. He died during a confrontation with New York City police who were later exonerated, setting off outrage across the country. Why was it important to express your feelings about police violence?
MF: I wanted to write a very emotional and mindful perspective on it. I want to see communication and relations between police and our communities improve. When anything happens in our community where we need police we want them to be there in minutes. And for the most part they do, they do an incredible job of arriving when there are problems. But when they do things that are wrong we expect them to be held accountable. We have not seen that accountability take place in our country.
RH: You recently performed for the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday celebration in California. Even though you were playing in a packed stadium, what was it like to look over and see him dancing to your music?
MF: Oh, it was really amazing. I’ve been a big fan and follower, and read his books. I was just amazed to be near him. He said, “When I first saw you, I saw your tattoos and I saw your dreadlocks and I said, ‘this guy looks really hard,’ you know. And then I heard your music and it was very poppy and inspiring, and it got people up dancing and singing and clapping their hands, and my thoughts changed about you.” He then said, “But you know, excitement like that, it’s a great thing, but it doesn’t last for very long.” He said, “And that’s why it’s so important for people to listen to the words, because the words have meaning that goes on beyond just the excitement of the concert.”
RH: So many people listen to your music to get into a positive space. When you need that jolt of positivity or inspiration, what do you listen to?
MF: I reach for music like medicine. My favorite artists are the ones who were successful in marrying great storytelling with music that you could move to and groove to. And I love Marvin Gaye for that reason, I love Bob Marley for that reason, I love John Lennon for that reason, I love Johnny Cash for that reason. It’s that ability to make people though the music feel like you could become a difference maker in the world.