Power to the Peaceful: An Exclusive One-on-One with Michael Franti


Michael Franti has been mak­ing mu­sic for over 25 years, blend­ing his unique style of hip/hop with funk, reg­gae, soul, folk, world beat, rock and pol­i­tics. To some, he has been dubbed a rab­ble rouser, but to his loyal fol­low­ers he is a voice of rea­son, pro­mot­ing so­cial jus­tice through­out the world, echo­ing themes that are as as so­cially rel­e­vant to­day as they were when he be­gan in 1986—themes of peace, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism and ac­cep­tance of our fel­low hu­mans. Franti stanchly op­poses what he de­scribes as “man’s in­hu­man­ity to man in all its guises,” from the death penalty to war to the home­less who shuf­fle down the streets in his own San Francisco.

Franti’s mu­sic, his words and his films have be­come the em­bed­ded in the rhetoric of today’s anti-war move­ments. Lyrics from his 2003 song “Bomb the World” can be found on t-shirts, but­tons mugs and protest sings across the globe. “We can bomb the world to pieces,” he wrote. “But we can’t bomb it into peace.”

In­deed, Franti’s words carry a raw, pure passion—and a grav­ity that has come to be ex­pected from him. It’s that pas­sion that set the tone for our con­ver­sa­tion, when I re­cently caught up with him on the road be­fore the Moun­tain Jam in Hunter, New York. We talked about Franti’s mu­sic, his pas­sion for so­cial jus­tice, and his views on the state of world affairs.

HEATHER JACKS: You’ve been ex­tremely out­spo­ken against the war in Iraq, which has now ex­tended into Afghanistan. You have also been an ar­dent sup­porter of Pres­i­dent Obama. The fact is, the war has es­ca­lated; our sol­diers have not come home. So, I have to ask: How do you feel about the Pres­i­dent now?

MICHAEL FRANTI: Well first of all, he en­tered in the worst sit­u­a­tion pos­si­ble, a funky econ­omy and in­her­it­ing not one, but two wars. And I’m some­body who has been to Iraq and played in the streets of Bagh­dad and I’ve seen what life is like for peo­ple in Iraq, for Iraqi civil­ians as well as sol­diers. I’ve played at Wal­ter Reed Hos­pi­tal sev­eral times, seen in­jured sol­diers there and played for them. And apart from Barack Obama, left or right, Re­pub­li­can or De­mo­c­rat, I be­lieve that we should be spend­ing our re­sources on help­ing peo­ple be bet­ter, be more healthy, be more pro­duc­tive, have economies that work and spend less money on blow­ing peo­ple up; but, that’s just where my po­lit­i­cal lean­ings are. I’m al­ways go­ing to fight for that and I’m con­tin­u­ing to urge Obama to go in that direction.

My song “It’s Time To Go Home” came from my ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing in Iraq, and from play­ing for sol­diers at the Wal­ter Reed Hos­pi­tal and see­ing these guys who are just ready to come home. It seems like now, with all the other things that are hap­pen­ing in the news—healthcare, cli­mate change, the oil spill—our broth­ers and sis­ters who are over there in Iraq and Afghanistan are on page 16 and kind of for­got­ten. So, I wrote that song as a re­minder, that they’re still over there and it’s time to go home.

HJ: I’m gonna be real here. I love your work, but when you did “The Obama Song,” I won­dered if you had sold out.

FRANTI: Well, I feel that most im­por­tantly to­day, we want every­one to feel like they can con­tribute and be ap­pre­ci­ated for their con­tri­bu­tions and that’s the spirit that Bar­rack re­ally brought to this coun­try. And he’s al­ready done a fan­tas­tic job of set­ting a tone and his tone is, “I’m gonna ap­proach this from calm­ness. I’m gonna ap­proach this with in­tel­li­gent passion.

And he’s not gonna do every­thing I think is right, but he’s gonna do what is best for get­ting our coun­try back on track and get­ting the world in a health­ier space. And if he’s not do­ing what we want, then get mad, speak out, stand up, and raise your voice. When we all sit back and go, ‘OK what­ever the gov­ern­ment de­cides is OK’, that’s when we have problems.

Stand­ing up and speak­ing out is some­thing Michael has been do­ing his en­tire ca­reer. As a mu­si­cian, a film­maker and ac­tivist. I Know I’m Not Alone, his award win­ning film, “Came out of [his] frus­tra­tion with watch­ing the nightly news and hear­ing gen­er­als, politi­cians, and pun­dits ex­plain­ing the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic cost of the war in the Mid­dle East, with­out ever men­tion­ing the hu­man cost. I wanted to hear about the war by the peo­ple af­fected by it most: doc­tors, nurses, po­ets, artists, sol­diers, and my per­sonal fa­vorite, mu­si­cians. The film it­self was not meant to be a po­lit­i­cal movie, it was a film about peo­ple, and how they cope in a war-ridden country.

Power to the Peaceful

Franti has been largely ig­nored by the main­stream me­dia. How­ever, through ex­ten­sive tour­ing, al­ter­na­tive news out­lets and an ever grow­ing, ex­tremely loyal grass­roots fan base, he con­tin­ues to gain notoriety.

In the early 80s, he—along with the rest of the world—followed the story of Amer­i­can ac­tivist, jour­nal­ist and con­victed mur­derer, Mu­mia Abu-Jamal. Ja­mal, a for­mer Black Pan­ther, was sen­tenced to death for the 1981 mur­der of Philadel­phia po­lice of­fi­cer Daniel Faulkner. His in­car­cer­a­tion, trial and ul­ti­mate sen­tence con­tinue to be mired in con­tro­versy and have at­tracted world­wide recog­ni­tion from or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and The Hu­man Rights Watch. As a way to sup­port Ja­mal and op­pose the death penalty, Franti founded Power to the Peace­ful; an or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to, not only peace, but hu­man rights. Power to the Peace­ful is a lifestyle choice, which is cel­e­brated at an an­nual free festival.

The move­ment em­braces yoga, veg­e­tar­i­an­ism, hu­mor, so­cial jus­tice and the prac­tice of non-violence on a mu­si­cal back­drop that has in­cluded such lu­mi­nar­ies as Ala­nis Moris­sette, Ziggy Mar­ley, In­digo Girls, The String Cheese In­ci­dent, Anti Flag and An­gela Davis. It was, as MiFranti says, in­spired by, “The one ques­tion that kept com­ing up for me. And that is, can I be the peace that I want to see in the world?”

This year the Power to the Peac­ful fes­ti­val was at­tended by over 50,000 people.

Franti has be­come a fig­ure of im­por­tance on the mu­si­cal scene in gen­eral, and the world can­vas at large as a spokesper­son for en­vi­ron­men­tal issues.

The BP oil spill

HJ: You re­cently played at The Gulf Shores Fes­ti­val in Al­abama. Tell me about that.

FRANTI: Yeah, let’s talk about the oil spill. Be­cause it’s some­thing I’ve been keep­ing track of every day, since it first started. We were play­ing right at the beach with Zac Brown Band, Ma­tis and just some great play­ers, and from the stage you could look out over the ocean and it was so weird to have this feel­ing that there was this gi­ant sea mon­ster of oil that was brim­ming out there and no­body knows when it’s go­ing to hit shore.

If you live any­where near the Gulf Coast, I think it’s great to go there and see what’s hap­pen­ing with your own eyes. We need to keep as well in­formed as pos­si­ble, so that as this thing de­vel­ops, we can vote for peo­ple who are go­ing to change en­ergy pol­icy. We need to be in­de­pen­dent of for­eign oil.

HJ: So, in the theme of keep­ing well in­formed; how do you do that? What blogs or news are you reading?

FRANTI: I don’t re­ally read or fol­low one blog. My main blog is Face­book. I’ll check out some other blogs, CNN, BBC, Huff­in­g­ton Post, Ya­hoo News, and mostly check out the com­ments be­low. But I do fol­low Face­book. I get on there every day and cor­re­spond with peo­ple. I per­son­ally do a five or six minute me­dia clip, daily on Facebook.

HJ: Re­gard­ing the oil spill, what was your take on the com­mu­ni­ties on the Gulf Shore?

FRANTI: I went and had lunch at a cou­ple of restau­rants and talked to peo­ple who have busi­nesses there and the busi­nesses are just get­ting ham­mered. Even though it hadn’t af­fected the beaches yet, the com­mu­ni­ties were suffering.

This spill has so many dif­fer­ent lay­ers to it. There’s the eco­nomic com­po­nent, there’s the en­vi­ron­men­tal com­po­nent that we’re now see­ing in Louisiana as the oil washes up on the shore and it’s go­ing to be decades be­cause there’s these glob­ules that are sink­ing to the bot­tom and they’re even­tu­ally go­ing to wash up again in years to come. Then there’s the whole thing of our en­ergy and where we de­rive our en­ergy from, which then has to do with the wars that we’re wag­ing and the amounts of money that we’re spend­ing, which we should be spend­ing on things like bet­ter en­ergy, or ed­u­ca­tion, or health­care, or na­tional parks or roads or anything.

HJ: What do you think Michael? Is the world go­ing to get better?

FRANTI: Yeah, I think so. I see a lot of changes in our coun­try. Every­where I go, I see peo­ple who are look­ing to cre­ate a greener life for their fam­ily, for their school, for their com­mu­nity. Like re­cy­cling and or­ganic pro­duce. I see big chains like Wal-Mart in­cor­po­rat­ing green poli­cies into their stores and I think with this oil spill, it’s go­ing to make peo­ple feel the im­mi­nence of this change that needs to oc­cur. I hope that’s the pos­i­tive that comes out of it. Right now, there’s peo­ple who are re­ally strug­gling down there and need our help.

HJ: So, I know that in keep­ing with your en­vi­ron­men­tal mis­sion, you don’t use wa­ter bot­tles on your tour or in your per­sonal life. You’re a ve­gan, and your bus runs on biodiesel. You are what I would call a true gra­nola head.

FRANTI: Gra­nola Head? I like that.

HJ: But what about the shoes Michael? In­quir­ing minds want to know, ‘why don’t this boy wear no shoes?’

FRANTI: [Laugh­ing] Yeah, I haven’t worn shoes since, well, I guess for about ten years or so now. I went down to New Zealand and I was stay­ing with some tra­di­tional Maoris in the jun­gle and they don’t wear shoes in the jun­gle, so I took off my shoes and I couldn’t even walk three steps so I thought I’m gonna try this, like a fast, for three days in San Fran­cisco. And now it’s 10 years.

Not wear­ing shoes has been a great learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence about stay­ing in touch with the planet, learn­ing where to step, where not to step and walk­ing gen­tly upon the earth.

Shake it, baby

Franti’s mu­sic is po­lit­i­cally charged, but he tells me that the mes­sage is sim­pler. “To ap­pre­ci­ate your­self,” he says, “and to learn to em­brace oth­ers from all walks of life, all parts of the world, all re­li­gions, all races, shapes col­ors and sizes. We just want to spread some sun­shine on the road, be­cause it’s OK for us to have fun and ap­pre­ci­ate the beauty in each other. The first line to our new sin­gle is the most im­por­tant to me: You’re per­fect just the way you are, be­cause the way you look doesn’t matter/Just shake it, shake it, shake it baby.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.