Friday, June 10, 2005


Mellowing, slightly

Long a standard for motorcycle cops, military personnel and punk rockers, high-top boots were also a staple of Michael Franti's wardrobe during his younger days.

Music with a message

An acoustic jam with Michael Franti

Where: Pipeline Cafe, 805 Pohukaina St.

When: 7 p.m. June 14

Tickets: $25 advance tickets available at the club, Jelly's and Hawaii's Natural High

Call: 589-1999

courtesy imusic
Spearhead frontman Michael Franti brings his socially-conscious style of music to Pipeline Cafe on Tuesday.

As founder of the Beatnigs in 1986, he melded hip-hop lyricism with the rugged sounds of industrial rock. That group morphed into the short-lived duo Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, continuing on the politically charged tip with songs like "Television, the Drug of the Nation," "Everyday Life Has Become a Health Risk" and "Music and Politics."

Some 20 years later, Franti has come to the realization that just being angry about a situation doesn't necessarily mean things will change. Continuing with socially conscious topics as frontman of the group Spearhead, his music has transformed into a funkier mix of reggae, rock and Latin-influenced jazz.

A little more than 18 months after his last visit to Hawaii for Jack Johnson's inaugural Kokua Festival, Franti returns for an acoustic set at Pipeline Cafe. And like the picture of his bare foot that graces the cover of 2004's "Songs From the Front Porch," expect a softer, more stripped-down version of the caged rage that accentuated his earlier work.

"WHEN I started making music with the Beatnigs, there were a lot of things in the world I was pissed off about," explained Franti in a 2004 interview with Cannabis Culture Magazine. "By working and getting involved with different projects, I became more active, and I realized I didn't feel so angry anymore because I felt like I had some power in the world. As that has increased, I don't just need songs about what's going on ... I need songs that inspire me to get up every morning and continue the work I do."

An experience touring with U2's Bono during his DHOH days helped change his approach in reaching out to listeners, focusing more on opening up to new ideas instead of just venting frustrations. The formation of Spearhead in 1994 was a deliberate move towards more meaningful songs, a precursor to what some later characterized as the rise of "neo-soul" in the latter half of that decade.

"As a pop musician working in the pop world, your value is pretty trivial in the grand scope of things," he said. "But as a storyteller, if you can really invest meaning into your work, then it can have real value."

Although Spearhead's debut album, "Home," and the 1997 follow-up "Chocolate Supa Highway" failed to catapult the group to mainstream success, they allowed an escape from the corporate tyranny Franti felt subjected to in the music industry. When Capitol Records dropped the band in 1998, he formed his own record label (Boo Boo Wax) and continued to put out new material. A year later, he founded the Power to the Peaceful Festival, an annual event in San Francisco that spotlights various social and political causes.

"The more that I've learned about myself, it's taken that to get me to the point now where I can really start to express that in my music," he said. "I used to want my music to get out there and save the whole world ... now I just feel like I'd really like it if my music meant something to a few people."

THE LACK of a major label deal also gives Franti the opportunity to work on a number of side projects. He collaborated with Blackalicious' Gift of Gab on a remake of Sublime's "What I Got," which will be released on a tribute album to the Long Beach band later this month.

Also in the works is "I Know I'm Not Alone," a documentary that chronicles Franti's first-hand experience with war in the Middle East. He traveled to Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Jordan last year, armed with a guitar and a video camera to record the reactions of both the U.S. soldiers and local residents he met.

"My intention was to not only capture emotions on film but to record them in song," he said in a statement posted online at www.iknowimnotalone.com. "I wanted to make a film about people and the things they do to overcome the stresses of war and occupation, chief among these being friendship, humor, art and music."

With social injustice, racial inequality and corporate greed still around, expect Franti to keep battling interlopers with compositions that both enlighten and entertain.

As the lyric from the title track of "Everyone Deserves Music" goes: "Even our worst enemies deserve music."

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