Few artists today seem able to depict contemporary events in their songs while cushioning gloom with a ray of hope. For years Michael Franti has been on kind of a mission to decry injustice and provide palliative uplift. “It’s Good to be Alive Today,” from his latest “Soulrocker” album is a prime example of this gifted artist’s approach.
“Whenever I make a record I always think how can I make music that helps people get through whatever challenges they face,” Franti explains before his Maui concert. “I was making the record during the lead up to the (2016) election and there were police killings of black youth, and there were so many things weighing on people. And so I wanted to speak to those things, but I also wanted to leave people feeling a sense of optimism, and face whatever they were going through with positivity.”
“Every day I was picking up my phone and reading the news and thinking the world is such a shit show. But I feel most grateful right now that in my life I can’t recall a time when there were so many opportunities to be doing things that make a difference. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed if I’m on Facebook reading an endless list of things going wrong. But I’m also getting in touch with ways that help make things be better. That’s when I feel a sense of purpose both with my music and just as an individual in the world, when I’m giving back and contributing in some way, to alleviate some kind of suffering in the world and bring some kind of happiness and joy.”
Released last summer, “Soulrocker” is Franti’s 9th studio recording with his band Spearhead. Packed with infectious, uplifting songs like “We Are All Earthlings” and “Summertime Is In Our Hands,” Franti says the album title personifies a righteous individual.
“It’s a person who lives from their heart with compassion for all and has a tenacious enthusiasm for music, life and the planet. I was just in South Africa travelling around and we’re making a ‘Soulrocker’ documentary about people I meet who are going through incredible challenges and find their connection to music gets them through it. There are millions for people who make or enjoy music simply because of the way it makes them feel. That’s what a soulrocker is.
“Music is my salve. It’s what I go to when I’m stressed out. I keep a guitar next to my bed and I’ll pick it up in the middle of the night and strum or write. That’s where a lot of the inspiration for my songs comes from.
“My iPod is like my medicine chest. I’m feeling anxious in traffic I’ll put on Kool and The Gang and have some celebration in the car, or I’m pissed off I go to my Rage Against the Machine medicine, or if I’m trying to get my wife to come to bed early I’m throwing on Sade.”
In February, he was invited to participate at the Skoll World Forum 2017 at the University of Oxford in England. This annual gathering of social entrepreneurs and philanthropists was launched by Jeff Skoll, the cofounder of eBay. Franti performed “My Lord,” one of the rousing songs from “Soulrocker,” joined by U2’s Bono and the Eagles’ Don Henley on backing vocals. “It was a pretty magic moment for me,” he says.
Franti has known Bono since the early ‘80s when The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy were invited to open for U2 on the Zoo TV Tour.
“We had a song called ‘Television the Drug of the Nation,’ and it was seen by U2,” he says. “They loved the video for it and they used it to open their Zoo TV Tour to start the show. They invited us to tour as a support act. The ‘Achtung Baby’ album had just come out and I saw the show where they sang ‘One’ for the first time, and it totally changed my world.”
Relaying a funny incident with the band, Franti continues: “Bono came up to my after about five days and he’s like, ‘Michael can I have a quiet word with you?’ I’m thinking am I in trouble, did I do something wrong. He goes, ‘it’s this one thing. You know my guitar player?’ I’m yeah. He goes, ‘his name is the Edge, not Ed.’ Oh. For part of the tour I’m, Ed like that hat, nice guitar solo Ed.”