Musician is not alone in his fight against the war | AspenTimes.com

Musician is not alone in his fight against the war

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen, CO Colorado

Michael Franti, foreground, leads his band, Spearhead, to a performance today in the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival. (Courtesy Andrew Fornasier)

SNOWMASS – Even Michael Franti, a seemingly indefatigable voice against war, corruption and injustice, might be getting a touch of weariness. After moving into a new medium for the 2005 film “I Know I’m Not Alone,” a documentary of his unsanctioned travels in Iraq and the Middle East, the singer’s latest side project is in print. It is the children’s book “What I Be,” which is described as “a visual and musical journey about self-acceptance.”

“After two years working on the film, I felt I wanted to do something different, something cleansing. I wanted to stop the researching, and making, of a film on war,” said the 41-year-old from his home in San Francisco. “Making a children’s book seemed logical.”

Franti is also at work on a new album; he and his band, who collectively come under the name Spearhead, spent three recent weeks recording, with plans to finish the project later this year in Jamaica. The album is shaping up to have a little less fight, and a little more focus on aiding and soothing.

“It’s very uplifting. Maybe a more danceable record than any we’ve made,” said Franti, who appears today at Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ Labor Day Festival, in an opening set before the Allman Brothers Band, and tonight at Belly Up, in a benefit concert for his Powerful to the Peaceful foundation. “I want to give people something to help them stay on course, so they don’t feel overwhelmed and don’t feel like giving up.”

Even with the turn in his tone lately, it’s unlikely Franti will be throwing in the towel to his foes: the political establishment, the war in Iraq, the death penalty. On the albums “Stay Human” and “Everyone Deserves Music,” he has made direct, though lyrically memorable, stabs at the Bush administration, the radio industry and, in the landmark 2001 concept album “Stay Human,” capital punishment.

Franti doesn’t see himself as a lone voice in the wilderness. His power seems to come from aligning people in his causes; witness the name of his film, “I Know I’m Not Alone.” He says the difference between the ’60s, when rock singers seemed to have a potent political voice, and now is that commercial radio suppresses such activism. But on a level beneath broadcast radio is another level gaining weight.

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“I’m encouraged by how many artists supported Live Earth,” he said. “That concert took a lot of criticism in the media. But when I talked to fans who saw it, especially outside the U.S., they said it was the first time these issues were brought up in pop music.”

Franti acknowledged that what could be called “crisis weariness” ” the building pile of war, culture clashes and environmental threats we face ” can be setting in. But he suggested that maybe it’s always been that way, and that we should be grateful for the light that’s now cast on injustices from Darfur to New Orleans.

“I’m grateful there are enough people who are concerned, who want to highlight this,” he said. “In the past, there were parts of the world we just didn’t notice.

“My way of dealing with that is to get involved in combating this. Instead of saying, ‘Oh God, look what’s going on. I’m giving up.'”

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com