Peace, justice and social equality mean the world to Michael Franti, and he uses his music to spread the love, writes Ben Waterworth.
MANY visiting musicians leave Tasmania with fond memories and profound experiences that they can then share around the globe.
But one of the world’s most philanthropic and inspirational musicians, Michael Franti, left the state with something very few people can lay claim to: an extra day added to his life.
Franti last performed on the Apple Isle back in 2003, as the headline act at the very first Falls Festival at Marion Bay – a memorable experience, given the unique circumstances of his visit.
‘The last time I was there it was New Year’s Eve and then we flew to Hawaii directly after and we crossed the date line and I got to celebrate New Year’s Eve again in Hawaii.” Franti recalled. ‘So it benefited my life greatly by giving me an extra day, which I’m sure when I’m on my death bed I’ll very much appreciate!”
It’s one of the few times you will hear Franti talk about something that benefits himself rather than others.
He is renowned around the world for his strong advocacy and is an outspoken supporter for various social justice and peace issues. For 30 years Franti has used the power of his music and spoken word to express his beliefs and help give back to a world that has given him plenty of success along the way.
Franti discovered his desire for music through spoken word and industrial punk in San Francisco in the late 1980s.
In the early 1990s he moved on to form The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. The band found success with their politically charged lyrics and social commentary set to the backdrop of industrial and hip-hop music, and were even hand-picked by U2 to open for them on their iconic Zoo TV tour.
Franti connected with his current band, Spearhead, in 1994, and they have been like a family to him ever since.
‘We have been playing for 20 years and we love it more than ever,” he said. ‘The guys in the band are really my best friends. We love sharing what we do with audiences, and we have like an intuition that we get after years of playing with people that you know and love and trust. You’ve seen all their dirty laundry.
‘The music takes you away in that way that it’s like a great soccer team or something where the players each know intuitively where they’re going to be moving – that’s how we feel when we play live.”
And playing live is exactly where Franti and Spearhead excel.
Known as one of the most energetic performers around, Franti will often improvise in his sets to engage the crowd and express his constant energy from his shows to the people in the audience.
‘It’s really like a circular thing with the band – we put out energy and then the crowd gives it back, and we get off on it as much as the audience does,” Franti said. ‘Whatever it is, the size of the venue, we always try to make it an intimate experience, and I always get out into the crowd with my guitar and go sing some songs with them. So I make it fun no matter what.”
The energetic performances coincide with his passion for advocacy and social issues.
A longstanding advocate for peace in the Middle East, Franti travels to the region often, and in 2005 he released a film called I Know I’m Not Alone, which highlighted his experiences in the region.
In 2013 he also started the Do It For The Love foundation with his fiancee Sara Agah, which helps bring music to wounded war veterans and people living with life-threatening illnesses.
‘It’s kinda like a Make-A-Wish foundation for music,” Franti said. ‘Since we started a year and a half ago we’ve done 250 fan wishes with everything from Jay Z and Beyonce to Garth Brooks and Metallica.
‘If there is anybody out there who lives in Tasmania in a situation who wants to bring a family member to our show, just write to us and we’ll get your family in.”
Franti famously lives his life barefoot and will only wear thongs when required in restaurants or on planes.
However, he was recently forced to wear shoes for the first time in 15 years.
‘Just in the last six weeks I tore my meniscus in my left knee and I had to have surgery on it three weeks ago,” he said. ‘So for the last four weeks I had to wear shoes because I couldn’t keep the flip-flops on my feet with the cast I had on it.”
Franti and Spearhead are currently in the studio working on their next album, and will unveil several new tracks when they return to Tasmania on Good Friday, April 3, for a show at the Odeon Theatre in Hobart from 7.30pm.
Tickets are $88, available from http://www.moshtix.com.au
This article was originally written for The Mercury