Michael Franti's socially inspired lyrics and Spearhead's infectious mix of classic soul, funk and hip-hop combine forces to take on one of America's biggest issues on their highly anticipated new album Stay Human. The record is built around an imaginary broadcast from a community radio station covering the impending state execution of a black activist accused of murder. Think of it as a musical meditation on social justice, legal injustice and the death penalty set to hip-grinding party music and heartfelt ballads. Stay Human features 13 new songs, interwoven with the tale of Sister Fatima, a healer and activist who is to be executed for a murder her community is sure she didn't commit. "I've been doing a lot of work, both musically and in various activist situations, against the death penalty," Franti explains. "I wanted the album to be about that, but I didn't want to write 13 songs about people in prison. So I wrote the story to go around it."
Between dramatic call-in reports and a highly-charged phone conversation with the governor (none other than actor Woody Harrelson), the deejays spin records full of unflinchingly bold and fundamentally positive lyrics. Ballad-like tracks with a message such as "Do Ya Love" have the lyricism and melody of such great artists as Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield. Others, like "Speaking Of Tongues," state their messages in deeply felt rap poetry in the manner of Gil Scott-Heron. Though many styles inform his music, Stay Human could only have been written by Michael Franti.

While the album's storyline unfolds, the music on Stay Human delivers its own message – that strength, either in an individual or in a community, comes from the spirit. And for all its nitty-gritty, street-wise toughness, Stay Human is ultimately a very spiritual recording. "The first song, 'Oh My God,' is almost like a prayer," Franti notes. "It's like, why have you left us in this situation? But in the end, we still have faith in the power of the creator. It puts the whole album in context. And as I grow and tour and speak out, it's more important than ever to have that spirit."

An activist and poet, Franti started out as a bass player for the Beatnigs, who like Fishbone, Living Colour and Arrested Development, were all outspoken African-American artists in the late '80s. Franti subsequently gained increasing attention as founder of the Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy in the early '90s. In 1994, he formed Spearhead, which made an immediate impact with its debut release, Home. The organic sounding Home was a resounding success, eventually selling over 200,000 copies worldwide. Its controversial and provocative depiction of race, poverty, AIDS and other heavy sociopolitical concerns mixed with lightness, love, and other joys of life made for an irresistibly rich R&B and soul album. Stay Human harkens back to this first Spearhead release.

Franti formed a partnership with Six Degrees because he was a fan of the label's hybrid of dance and world music, and as Franti explains, "I felt a sense of commitment to my music from the first moment I walked into Six Degrees' office." Michael maintains his own label, Boo Boo Wax, for "boutique" items like live recordings, remixes, alternate versions of songs, etc.

Stay Human's radio-based storyline also reflects Michael's passion about the issues currently facing community radio stations. "We’ve done a bit of pirate radio and microradio," Franti says. "We've even contemplated taking a microradio transmitter with us on tour, and we're really excited about the possibility of internet radio."

Stay Human is full of surprising twists. The title track alone contains allusions to icons as widespread as P-Funk and the Dalai Lama. "Listener Supported" features vocals by Marie Daulne, leader of the Afropean band Zap Mama and harkens back to the musical poetry of Marvin Gaye. The impassioned "Rock The Nation" is a hard-hitting call to action a la KRS-One. Spearhead’s encore show-closer "Sometimes," one of the strongest songs the band has yet recorded, takes an energetic pop vamp and marries it to a hip-hop beat. "Soulshine" is an energetic acoustic soul song about the beauty of individuality. Franti is enthusiastic about a lot of contemporary music – Jill Scott and Mos Def are current favorites – but he also looks back to earlier sounds. "I’ve been most influenced by those artists who were writing true soul music – not the 'baby I wanna get with ya' stuff, but artists writing about the heart. Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, Gil Scott-Heron. I miss that time when R&B really had something important to say."

If Michael Franti has anything to say about it, that time may be coming back – a time when pop music was simultaneously soulful and socially relevant and its community of listeners were socially responsible. As Franti says, it helps to look at the big picture. "To me it's all part of one poem of music that's constantly being written and re-written. It goes in ebbs and flows, between the people who are only interested in how many units you sell and those people who want to keep the real voices out there. I think we’re entering a new period of conservatism right now and more artists will be reacting to that." Michael Franti and Spearhead will be pointing the way.

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Beatnigs (1986–1990)
Franti began his music career in 1986 as part of the industrial punk band The Beatnigs. While attending the University of San Francisco and living above KUSF he developed a fascination with music and decided to start a band. The Beatnigs included dancer and percussionist Rono Tse; the band released a self-titled LP and an EP Television on Alternative Tentacles records. The records received some critical acclaim but little notoriety beyond the San Francisco Bay Area.

Disposable Heroes (1991–1993)
His next project, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, found Franti continuing his collaboration with Tse, and working with jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter, and electronic musicians Mark Pistel (Consolidated) and Jack Dangers (Meat Beat Manifesto). The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy wrote biting, progressive lyrics that railed against the injustices of the world, set to a fusion of industrial and hip hop. Their first album, Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury (on Island Records), won acclaim for its social commentary, and they were chosen by U2 to open for their Zoo TV Tour.

Franti and the Disposable Heroes put together another record of music accompanying novelist William Burroughs' readings for an album entitled Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales. This album diverged greatly from the style of the band's previous work, as they were largely providing musical background and accompaniment to Burroughs' spoken readings from several of his books.

Michael Franti & Spearhead (1994–present)

Michael Franti and Spearhead performing at Wakarusa 2006. In 1994, Franti formed a new band called Spearhead with a few studio musicians, including mainstay Carl Young, and announced the dissolution of Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Their first release, Home, in September 1994, was a departure from the politically charged rap of the Disposable Heroes and drew more from funk and soul music.

Their follow up album Chocolate Supa Highway was released in March 1997, with several changes in band members between releases. This album featured a return to hip hop elements and a pronounced reggae influence and included guest appearances by notables like Stephen Marley and Joan Osborne.

After releasing the two albums, the band split with Capitol Records (reportedly prompted by the label's repeated urging to perform with other artists like Will Smith).[citation needed] The band instead decided to create its own record label, Boo Boo Wax. Since Capitol Records owned the rights to the name "Spearhead," subsequent albums were all released as "Michael Franti & Spearhead."

In 1999, Franti began a deeper exploration of his music and politics. He returned the following year as an organizer and cultural worker tied to several intensifying political movements of the time, voicing his observations through his music. His song, "Sometimes," was included on the soundtrack to the film, Mystery Men.

Michael Franti & Spearhead released Stay Human in 2000 under their own label Boo Boo Wax in alignment with indie music label Six Degrees Records. The album's central theme was the unjust nature of the death penalty and other major themes included mass media monopolization, the prison-industrial complex and corporate globalization.

In an interview, Franti talked about the message of Stay Human: "Half the record is songs about what's happening in the world right now, and the other half is about how we cope with it as people who are concerned about what's going on," he said. "This specter of war, intimidation, this nation vs. the rest of the world, it wears us out. Half the record is a healthy dose of venting anger about that, and the other half is about how do we hold on to our spirituality, our community and our connectedness to each other." Franti left Six Degrees due to the labels' inability to properly promote the project, for poor record sales and frequent disagreements with the labels' founder Pat Berry.

Everyone Deserves Music was released in 2003. Franti composed many of the songs from his guitar and, like fellow 21st century cultural globalists Manu Chao and Ozomatli, continues to synthesize his eclectic influences. In a departure from the industrial sounds of the Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes, and the minimalism of early Spearhead, Franti's affirming lyrics are now set to swelling rock chords, while keeping a world-wise groove nodding towards reggae, dancehall, bossa nova, Afrobeat, and funk. Anthems like the title track "Everyone Deserves Music", "Yes I Will" and "Bomb The World" are constructed with a nod to the 1980s rock of The Clash and U2, as well as to classic soul from Stax and Motown. The song "We Don't Stop" (featuring Gift of Gab from Blackalicious and Spearhead's rapper/beatbox technician Radioactive) bridges the two sounds in a "Magnificent Seven" style mash-up. And on "Love Why Did You Go Away" and "What I Be", Franti reveals an alluring, sensual singing voice. "Pray For Grace" and "Bomb The World (Armageddon Version)" pair Franti with the reggae/funk giants Sly and Robbie (Grace Jones, Rolling Stones, Black Uhuru, No Doubt).

Also in 2003, Franti released a mostly acoustic album, Songs from the Front Porch containing rearranged versions of older songs from Chocolate Supa Highway, Stay Human and Everyone Deserves Music as well as a couple of new tracks.

On July 25, 2006, Michael Franti & Spearhead released Yell Fire!, inspired by Franti's trip to Israel, Baghdad, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. In an effort to share his experiences from his trip and to explore the human cost of war, Franti produced a movie entitled I Know I'm Not Alone, using the songs from his album Yell Fire! as a soundtrack. "One Step Closer To You" from Yell Fire! features Pink on backing vocals.

Michael Franti and Spearhead have taken a highly unconventional route to notoriety for an act with hip hop roots. Largely ignored by the traditional mainstream TV and radio channels of promotion, Franti and Spearhead have gained a passionate worldwide audience through extensive touring and appearances in alternative media like Mother Jones Magazine and Democracy Now.

Franti continues to hit the festival circuit worldwide, in addition to producing the annual Power to the Peaceful festival each year since 1999, with attendance around 50,000 in 2008. Michael Franti continues to gain influence in both popular music and social movements largely through extensive touring and word of mouth fan support. Lyrics from his song "Bomb The World", written in the dark aftermath of September 11 such as "You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can't bomb it into peace" have found their way onto protest signs and t-shirts all over the world from Los Angeles to Berlin, San Francisco to CNN, at demonstrations for peace large and small.

The song "Light Up Ya Lighter" by Michael Franti & Spearhead was included on the soundtrack to Body of War, an award-winning documentary about Tomas Young, a paralyzed Iraq War veteran.

The group's newest album All Rebel Rockers was released on September 9, 2008, which was largely recorded in Jamaica at the Anchor studio in St Andrew. The band worked with ubiquitous rhythm team Sly and Robbie on the set which entered the Billboard 200 pop chart in September at number 38.

Michael Franti played three different events to commemorate President Barack Obama's inauguration: The Green Ball, The Peace Ball and the Rock the Vote Party.

Franti is also an advocate for peace in the Middle East. His film I Know I'm Not Alone features footage of Iraq, the territories within the Palestinian Authority, and Israel. In 2006, he was invited by Australian MP Jenny Macklin to show the film at Australia's Parliament House, Canberra.

Franti is a vegan.

In an anti-poverty protest, Franti decided not to wear any shoes, initially for three days, and never went back. Except for occasionally wearing crocs on an airplane or in a restaurant, Franti has been walking through life barefoot since 2000.


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