Nine questions for Michael Franti


1. Your last show in the Twin Cities was on the Capitol lawn during the Republican National Convention, while the upcoming show is in the decidedly more restrained confines of Minneapolis’s historic State Theatre. Do you expect the dynamic of this show to be different than the last?
Yes—I feel that we will be dancing and celebrating a new era!

michael franti and spearhead are playing the state theatre on february 12. for tickets ($28.50) and information, see

2. What’s the best way to prepare oneself for the Michael Franti and Spearhead live experience?
Invite all your friends and family over for a home cooked meal, enjoy some quality time spent together, make sure you all carpool to the show, make sure you got some comfortable dancin’ shoes on, and be prepared to get loose!

3. Last year’s All Rebel Rockers is your sixth studio album with Spearhead. What do you think sets this one apart from your past works?
We recorded this album almost entirely in Kingston, Jamaica with Sly and Robbie. We’d be playing back a track we’d just recorded with the door wide open and there would be some random guy in the studio who might say something like, “Hey, mon, you need a keyboard part right there!” And I’d think, who the heck is this guy telling us how to mix the record? But then we’d check it out, and the guy would be right. Music is the pulse of Jamaica. In Jamaica, music is not made for the iPod, it’s made for the sound system and it’s blasting on every street corner.

4. As someone who has always stressed the unifying power of music, what place do you think musicians have in the world with respect to global politics?
Musicians have the power to bring people together. Through bringing people together, we develop empathy which is much stronger than just hearing about somebody far away—and when you can feel it yourself, that will lead to compassion. Music is the universal link that really brings all walks of life together to dance and to play and to be around each other, and to see that we really have a lot more in common than we have differences.

5. You’ve toured all over the world, notably in war-torn places like Iraq and Gaza, promoting a message of peace and human understanding. Do you plan to continue that tradition?
Yes, but when I travel to these places I do not come as a messenger, I come as a listener. Everywhere I go I meet people from each of those different groups who are willing to take incredible risks in creating peace, and it’s those people who I want to support in whatever way I can.

6. How has your music been influenced by your travels and interactions with other cultures?
It comes from the small victories. The places I’ve been, have been the worst places hit by war—which is where I see people doing the most amazing things. They’re so full of life, community, and love. Robi and Nadwa—an Israeli woman and a Palestinian woman who both lost family members in the conflict there—came together and formed a group with families from each side and meet regularly to discuss their pain, but also to send a message that they don’t want the death of their family members to be used as a cry for more war. We want it to be used as a cry to end all war, everywhere. For me to witness that—it’s so inspiring. And everywhere I go I find people who are able to find that light. Because I travel as a musician, the music cures me. Every day that I play a show, at some point before I go on stage or during the show I’ll spontaneously laugh, thinking to myself, “Are you kidding me? I get to do this? I get paid for this? I get to play music for people and make them laugh, dance, cry and smile?”

7. As someone who grew up influenced by Bob Marley, and later the Clash, what similarities do you see in the socially-conscious music of their era to the music of today? What differences?
Both Bob Marley and the Clash were able to combine social, political, and emotional messages in their music. The difference between music then and music today is that today you can post nearly anything on YouTube and reach millions of people within moments—as opposed to going through the whole process of recording and then marketing. When I completed my “Obama Song” and the music video, we posted it the same day, and it blew up!

8. We have an incoming president who has grassroots community organizing experience, and is widely viewed as a proponent of social justice and equality. How do you view the next administration and do you think that today’s “rebels” should embrace it, or remain wary of those in power?
I feel that there is a tremendous amount of positive movement that has taken place, yet there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. It is important that we do not expect Barack Obama to carry the weight of all the wrongdoing that has been done, and to find the strength within ourselves and our communities to see what we ourselves can do to make change as well. I think that what we need right now, as a nation and as a planet, is the opportunity to have dialogue. The opportunity to have a conversation among grassroots organizations, corporate leaders, politicians, and everyday people in the street.

9. You have been walking barefoot for years now—any plans to put on shoes for Minnesota’s subzero temperatures in February?
Well, I can stand a little cold and I can stand a little dog shit, but when it comes to losing a toe from frost bite, I might have to wear the only pair of shoes I own: my Havaianna flip-flops with a pair of socks.

Jon Behm ( is a Minneapolis-based photographer and writer. While his specialty is music, Jon has a wide variety of interests that tend to take him all over the Twin Cities on a daily basis.