"As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever."
Clarence Darrow (1857 - 1938) US lawyer
LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW HERE
Michael Franti: Hey this is Michael Franti from the band Spearhead. It's a time in the world of great change. I just want to wish you a Happy New Year, and for your great changes no matter what they are, I just hope they are all positive and remember, we're all in this together.
worldbeatcanada: Congratulations on All Rebel Rockers. The one drop has never been far from your repertoire. Is your love for reggae music what inspired you to record this album in Jamaica in the first place?
MF: You know, I lived in Canada for one year. It was from 1980 to 1981. It was the year of Bob Marley's last tour. And,I was living in Edmonton. He was actually scheduled to come to Edmonton and I had tickets to the show and then he passed away before the tour started. Since that time I have had a real obsession with reggae but I never felt that, as an American artist that I could play reggae. But, a couple of years a go I went and sat down with Sly and Robbie and talked about music (we were doing some remixes together) and Robbie said to me, "Michael, you know reggae isn't a nationality, it's just a riddim. And, anybody can step on that riddim. The important thing is that you just be yourself. That's what makes the music authentic, not whether you're from Jamaica or America, Canada, Germany or anywhere else in the world." When we went to Jamaica to work on the record, I already had the songs written, and I would just sit down with the acoustic guitar and play them a tune and they would say, "Hey I got a riddim for this. let's go in and drop it, you know."
WBC: You really are a citizen of the world and acutely aware of the world around you. jamaica is one of the few places I've had the good fortune of visiting a few times in my life. What impressions did Jamaican make on you?
MF: Well, Jamaica is a very poor country. Some people are really trying to make the best out of their lives, work hard to get ahead, to achieve and succeed, and you have other people who take short cuts. Sometimes those short cuts lead to violence. So, you have this intense dichotomy of some people who are really dedicated to positivity, goodness and light and to helping each other and some people who are willing to step on others to get ahead. But, music is the thing that is so fundamental there. On every street corner in Kingston you have a sound system. It's so much a part of daily life. So, people will come into the studio when you are recording who you've never met before and they'll listen to the music and when the recording stops they'll go, "Hey mon, you know in the second verse? You need to put a new keyboard in there." And, you're looking at him going, "Who the hell are you man? Are you producing my album now or what?" And then you realize, wow they were right, man!
WBC: What is it about the Riddim Twins, Sly and Robbie, that makes them the quintessential foundation for today's reggae music?
MF: Both of them learned early on that if you wanted to be successful in music over a long period of time that they had to get off the island of Jamaica. They had to get out and see the world. They had to become a part of the world music family. And, that's what they did. They toured with Peter Tosh at a time when they were making way more money cutting studio tracks in Jamaica. They decided to take a cut in pay just so they could get out on the road and see the world. They also made other decisions which I think are really crucial. Like, both early on in their careers decided to stop smoking herb. They said, "Hey, if we want to keep up this pace we have to be in tip top shape as well as being students of music." So, Sly, every time I'm coming to Jamaica he calls me and says, "Bring me Mix magazine, Rolling Stone, Spin magazine, Guitar Player magazine, Musician magazine, Digital musician magazine ..." and then he studies all the latest equipment and who's at the top of the charts. At home, he's always listening to XM radio, YouTube, MTV, BET all the time, so he can see what's hot and what's happening. And, I guess the final thing is that as well as being students, they're professors. They're not afraid to share their trade secrets with anybody who is willing to listen.
WBC: We have a radio program I think Sly and Robbie are going to like a lot. This is worldbeatcanada radio and we have a few minutes with Michael Franti to talk about Spearhead's latest album, All Rebel Rockers. At the homepage www.spearheadvibrations.com you can hear, see, read, buy, experience more things than you can on most entire websites. Check it out and download a free MP3 from All Rebel Rockers. I'm a fan of Cherine Anderson. You two obviously hit it off. She's on three of the new album's tracks ...
MF: Yah, Cherine is one of the top artists in Jamaica today and she is a very conscious reggae artist. Cherine is one who has really bubbled to the surface. She makes records in Jamaica that get played by DJs no matter if they play slackness or conscious music. She came into the studio and sang background on a few songs and then started working on having her featured on some of the songs. Then, I invited her to come out on tour. So, for the last five months or so she's been out on the road with us. She started at the very young age, when she was 15 I think, she starred in that movie Dancehall Queen, which was a film that brought dancehall music to the rest of the world really, when it still wasn't that well known. She also starred in this movie, One Love with Ky-mani Marley which is a really fantastic movie. It's one where she's featured as a singer , not just an actress. She's also graduated from college, she's studied Japanese in college and film-making ... so she speaks Japanese fluently. She's just like an amazing person, you know! And, to have come from the situation which did in Jamaica ... she came from one of the roughest neighborhoods in Kingston. to have achieved so much at such a young age ... I think she's 24 or 25 ... she has big things ahead of her.
WBC: Going back to Yell Fire, we're hearing a lot more from Michael Franti & Spearhead these days thanks to a Playstation 2 ad featuring the song Everybody Ona Move. I hope you got a player out of the deal.
MF: (laughs) Maybe I should have asked for one, but we don't have those in my house. i don't even have a TV to play it on. Sometimes people say, "Why would you put your song in a commercial like that?" And, they're sitting there writing it to me on their own computer! So, what are you saying to me? But, I look at it as an opportunity to do two things: one is that all the money we make from any television commercials goes to our Power to the Peaceful Foundation which goes to putting on free concerts with the mission of peace in different parts of the world. So we do that, but secondly, it gets our music out to people who wouldn't normally hear it. The other day a friend of mine said, "Hey, I was watching FOX News and they had Bill O'Reilly saying something and then they went to a commercial with your music in it!" And, he said he saw it at half time during a football game so, those are the people who haven't heard our music and who i would really like to reach.
WBC: Absolutely. We'll go out on a Little Bit Of Riddim from All Rebel Rockers. Can you set this up?
MF: Yah, this is a song that I wrote. I just put the most basic beat on the drum machine and a little guitar line and I put the vocals on it and i brought it to Jamaica and Sly and Robbie transformed it into this wonderful rhythm and sound collage with wicked bass line and horns and drums and, to top it off, Cherine came in and did this really wicked verse on it. So that's it ... A Little Bit Of Riddim.
Michael Franti was interviewed on December 30/08 for worldbeatcanada radio.