Father’s Day. Most families celebrate this annual holiday by having a family dinner or barbecue. This year, my family went to a Michael Franti concert.
Years ago, my Uncle, Craig Duffy, turned my father and I on to Stay Human, Franti’s third studio album. Since then, my father and I have gone to two of his concerts (including the Father’s Day concert) and we have purchased many of his albums.
Franti, a 6’6”, 50 year old, dreadlock-toting, American singer, songwriter, rapper, poet, musician, and entertainer (to name a few) mashes hip-hop, reggae, rap, dancehall, funk, jazz, folk, and rock to address social issues while advocating for peace amongst all human beings, yet while still creating toe-tapping, hand-clapping, head-bobbing music.
Along with releasing three solo albums (Live at the Baobab, Passion, and Songs from the Front Porch), Franti formed the band that has and currently plays alongside him; Spearhead. The band, comprised of Franti (vocals and acoustic guitar), Carl Young (bass), Jay Bowman (electric and acoustic guitar), Mike Blakenship (keyboard), and Manad Itiene (drums) was formed in 1994 and released their first studio album that same year entitled: Home. Since then, Franti and Spearhead have released eight studio albums…their latest being SoulRocker which peaked at #38 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Before I discuss SoulRocker, let’s take a look back on some of Franti’s older albums. Stay Human, the album that introduced me to Franti can be described simply through one of its tracks: “All the Freaky People.”
This jazzy and funky song lured me into the world of Franti and his reggae-like style. Franti’s chanting of “boom bap” throughout the song really drags a person in. This track explains the name of the album saying that “all the freaky people make the beauty of the world” and that one should “stay human” and stay true to him or herself because everyone’s uniqueness makes the world so great. This type of peace-preaching is what Franti is all about. He calls for peace because we are all human. This talk is found in every single one of his songs.
Let’s move three years ahead to 2004…the year that Franti released Songs from the Front Porch. Upon discovering this gem of an album, my love for Franti was only furthered. Right off the bat, Franti hits you with an acoustic-lovers dream: “Yes I Will.” To accompany his magical strumming, Franti sings “Keep on walkin’ now, (yes I will)/Keep on talkin’ bout it (yes I will)/Keep on singin’ bout it (yes I will)/Keep on rainin’ down (yes I will).” This comforting chorus sends messages of hope to the listener, telling him or her to keep ‘going and doing’ what they do.
The next song, “Closer to the Sky” is a much more mellow, with its slower strumming of the acoustic guitar. While “Yes I Will” is more upbeat, “Closer to the Sky” shows a different, calmer side of Franti, while still preaching his positivity.
Following “Closer to the Sky,” Franti delivers the calming sound of chirping crickets at night with his third song, “Firefly.” The sound of crickets chirping to open a song is unique and definitely out of the “norm.” And this is just another thing I love about Franti; he is not afraid to experiment with different sounds such as this.
The very next track, “Love’ll Set Me Free” opens with strumming and the melodic sound of a flute. This song has, yet again, a calm feel to it, but at the same time, is totally something one can vibe to. Franti sings that he knows “that love is gonna set [him] free.” Franti’s messages of love are clearly present here and throughout many of his other jams. “Love Invincible” follows “Love’ll Set Me Free” with lively strumming and quicker drumming to bring the head-bobbing and hip-swaying to an even faster pace.
To wrap up this album, Franti sings an ode to marijuana entitled: “Ganja Babe.” In the song, Franti asks “ganja babe [his] sweet ganja babe/ [to] come wake [his] body-ody [and] take [his] mind away.” This song really gets Franti in tone with his reggae roots, considering the fact that rastafarian artists have promoted marijuana usage since the 60’s. Nonetheless, this song ends the album with chill vibes and once again, the strumming of Franti’s acoustic guitar.
Skipping forward to All Rebel Rockers, Franti opens this album with an upbeat song, “A Little Bit of Riddim.” Franti, accompanied by Cherine Anderson, sings about how “a little bit of riddim [makes] the world go round.” Great choice by Franti to open the album with this toe-tapping track.
The following song, “Life in the City” has a total rastafarian feel to it…so much so that the listener feels as if they are in Jamaica. The rastafarian riffs put the listener in a feel good mood. The beat had my head bobbing from the very beginning. Franti sings about how life in the city is dangerous. The city is a metaphor for the world we live in today. He says, “ay, yi, yi, put your hands up high/ ‘Cause you never know/ How long you’re gonna live ‘til ya die.” Messages such as this are found throughout the rest of this album.
Franti’s album released in 2013, All People opens with “All People” another one of Franti’s go-to upbeat songs that adds Gina Rene’s fantastic vocals to create a masterpiece. This song, being one of my all-time favorite Franti songs talks about how “all people, we’re all people.” Once again, one can see Franti’s powerful messages. The very next song, “11:59” really ‘hits you in the feels.’ “It’s eleven fifty-nine and fifty-nine seconds/ If I’m gonna die tonight I want heaven, ay, ay, with you.” Seeing this song live showed me the true passion behind those lyrics. Franti put so much heart and soul behind those words in concert and it was truly amazing.
Franti follows up with another one of my personal favorites “I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like).” The whistling in the background makes this a fun song not only to sing along with, but also to whistle along with. The chorus, which simply repeats “I’m alive” is so much more meaningful than it appears. The deeper meaning represents not only life, but how good life is. Franti really has a deeper meaning in everything…even a simple phrase such as “I’m alive.”
Franti continues with his meaningful lyrics in “Earth from Outer Space.” This song, so complex with its lyrics, is too much for me to put in words (feel free to check out the full lyrics yourself here). To put it simply, Franti picks apart all of the things we (the human race) are doing wrong on Earth from a vantage point in outer space.
Let’s skip ahead to the final song of this album, “Life Is Better With You.” Franti sings, “Woah, I’m not afraid to be alone/ but being alone is better with you/ Life is better with you.” The lyrics in this song are so magical that only the sound of clapping and calm strumming are needed to make the song whole. It is definitely a great way to end this album.
Now on to SoulRocker; Franti’s most recently released album, in fact, it was released just weeks ago. Franti experiments with EDM (electronic dance music) in this album, and, quite honestly, he really pulls it off. The EDM aspect makes his songs fun and something more people would want to get up and dance to. This EDM experiment is seen in the third track of this album: “Get Myself to Saturday.” The beginning kicks off with a fun EDM sample that makes you want to get up and dance. The rest of the album has more hints of EDM and splashes of classic Franti philosophy.
Franti has been, currently is, and for the unforeseeable future, will be my favorite underground artist. I like a lot of mainstream artists like Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar but there is something about Franti that is special. It is cool to be a part of such a small fan base like Franti’s.
Michael Franti, born in Oakland, California, the son of Mary Lofy (Irish, German, and French descent) and Thomas Hopkins (African American and Native American descent) is a true artist. Michael Franti strives to bring peace to this war-ridden world. Unlike some “artists” who send messages of violence, Franti makes music for the betterment of society. Michael Franti is a role model. Michael Franti is an artist that should be recognized for his work. Michael Franti is a man on a mission, a mission to change the world, one song at a time.