Michael Franti

Michael Franti
Michael Franti

Michael Franti in 2008
Background information
Born April 21, 1966 (1966-04-21) (age 45)
Oakland, California, U.S.
Origin San Francisco, California, U.S.
Genres Hip hop, funk, reggae, jazz, reggae fusion, folk, jam band, dancehall, rap
Occupations Composer, musician, poet rapper
Instruments Vocals, guitar
Years active 1986–present
Labels Alternative Tentacles, Island, Capitol, Boo Boo Wax, Six Degrees, ANTI-
Associated acts Radioactive, Carl Young, Spearhead
Website michaelfranti.com

Michael Franti (born April 21, 1966) is an American poet, musician, and composer. He is the creator and lead vocalist of Michael Franti & Spearhead, a band that blends hip hop with a variety of other styles including funk, reggae, jazz, folk, and rock. He is also an outspoken supporter for a wide spectrum of peace and social justice issues.


Early life

Michael Franti was born in Oakland, California to an Irish-German-French mother and an African-American and Native American father. However, his mother made an adoption plan for him because she was afraid her family would not accept him.[1][2] He was adopted by Carole Wisti and Charles Franti, a Finnish-American couple in Oakland, who had three biological children and two adopted African American sons.[2] Charles Franti was a professor in the department of epidemiology and preventive medicine of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and died in 2003. Michael's four siblings are named Rebecca, Sara, Dan, and Matthew.[3] Michael attended Davis Senior High School and graduated from the University of San Francisco. During his time at school there he met a priest who taught him how to tell a story on paper, and soon he was writing poetry. He purchased a bass at a pawn shop and started creating music inspired by Hip Hop, Punk, and Reggae that was being played on the campus radio station.[4] He has two sons: Ade with his wife Tara Franti-Rye, and Cappy from a previous relationship. At the fourth annual Mountain Jam Festival, he brought Cappy on stage to sing a song.[5]


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;[6] the band released a self-titled LP and an EP Television on Alternative Tentacles records. The records received some critical acclaim but little fame beyond the San Francisco Bay Area.

The 1988 LP release The Beatnigs was recorded at Dancin' Dog Studio in Emeryville and distributed by Alternative Tentacles. In addition to Michael Franti and Ron Tse, the band included Henry Flood on percussion, Andre Flores on keyboards, and Kevin on vocals. All of the band members made multiple instrumental contributions, including industrial percussion.

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 politically-charged lyrics that railed against the injustices of the world, set to a fusion of industrial music and hip hop. Their first album, Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury (on Island Records),[6] won plaudits 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. The song "Positive", also from the album Home, appeared on the Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool compilation album by the Red Hot Organization. In 1998, Spearhead recorded "I Got Plenty 'o Nuthin" with Ernest Ranglin for the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Red Hot + Rhapsody.

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).[7] 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."

His song "Sometimes" was included on the soundtrack to the 1999 film, Mystery Men, as well as the soundtrack to the 2006 film, Last Holiday. Also, under the "Spearhead" name, their cover version of The Police's 1979 No. 32 hit, "Roxanne", was featured on the soundtrack to the 1997 film Good Burger, the full-length feature film starring Kenan Thompson & Kel Mitchell based on their characters from the popular 'Good Burger' sketch featured on the Nickelodeon series All That.

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."[6] 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.[citation needed]

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.

Michael Franti at the Bonnaroo Festival, 2007 Photo: Raj Gupta

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.

Franti and Spearhead have gained a worldwide audience through touring and appearances in alternative media like Mother Jones magazine and Democracy Now!. Franti continues to tour in addition to producing the annual Power to the Peaceful festival each year since 1998.[8] The festival originated as a way of supporting Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been convicted of murdering a policeman but is considered by some on the Left to be a political prisoner.[9] 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.[citation needed]

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.

Songs from Yell Fire and All Rebel Rockers are on the soundtrack to The Edge of Never, a documentary about extreme skiers mentoring 15-year old Kye Peterson in his quest to ski the route in Chamonix, France that killed his father, Trevor Peterson, nine years earlier.

The album All Rebel Rockers was released on September 9, 2008 and was largely recorded in Jamaica at the Anchor studio in St Andrew. The band worked with ubiquitous rhythm team Sly and Robbie and featured multi-talented vocalist Cherine Anderson on the set which entered the Billboard 200 pop chart in September at number 38. The single 'Say Hey (I Love You)' also reached Number 18 on the US Hot 100, providing Franti with his first US Top 20 single.[10] Michael Franti was featured on Aux.tv's show Volume where he spoke about U.S. politics and his efforts to make the world a better place.[11]

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 announced[12] in November 2009 that he would be joining musician John Mayer on the Battle Studies Tour in spring 2010.

As part of the band's commitment to environmentalism, Michael Franti and Spearhead avoid the use of water bottles on national tours and run their tour bus on biodiesel.[1]

Franti announced the release of The Sound of Sunshine on his official website in July 2010. It features 12 tracks including two versions of the title track, the new hit single, "Shake It", and staples of his recent live performances including "Hey Hey Hey", "Anytime You Need Me", "The Thing That Helps Me Get Through", and the anthemic arena-rock ballad "I'll Be Waiting". The album originally was originally set to be released on August 24, but was pushed back to September 21 [13] to give the album "more runway." [14]

Michael Franti started the recording process for The Sound of Sunshine in Jamaica but then continued to mix tracks and record in Bali before choosing to bring a portable studio on the road. He continued to record on the road and then test his ideas in front of live audiences to see if they liked it before going back and revamping it the next day.[15] He has since been quoted as saying 90% of the album ended up being recorded on his laptop.[16]


Franti is also an advocate for peace in the Middle East. His film I Know I'm Not Alone features footage of Iraq, the Palestinian territories, and Israel. Franti decided to embark on this three week journey with friends to view the cost of war in the Middle East first-hand. Franti states, "This film came out of my frustration with watching the nightly news and hearing generals, politicians, and pundits explaining the political and economic cost of the war in the Middle East, without ever mentioning the human cost. I wanted to hear about the war by the people affected by it most: doctors, nurses, poets, artists, soldiers, and my personal favorite, musicians."[17] The film aims to speak multiple generations and to give people a better understanding of the people who still live in war-torn countries. He did not embark on the trip for the film with any special government groups or organizations, but instead bought plane tickets and headed off to Iraq, the Palestinian territories, and Israel armed with nothing more than his guitar and an extreme passion for music and a love of people. He says, "When I first had the idea for this journey, I had no idea how to get to Iraq and almost no idea how to make a film. After discovering that all you need to get into Iraq is a plane ticket, I prayed that movie making would be that simple..."[4]

In 2006, he was invited by Australian Labour MP Jenny Macklin to show the film at Australia's Parliament House, Canberra.[18]

Personal life

Inspired by his son, Michael became a vegan.[19]

In 2000, Franti decided not to wear any shoes, initially for three days. Since then, Franti has been walking through life barefoot except for occasionally wearing flip-flops as required to board an airplane or to be served in a restaurant.[20] Franti prefers to go barefoot.[21]



  • 2000: Live at the Baobab
  • 2003: Songs from the Front Porch


Studio albums


  • 1994: "Of course you can" UK #74
  • 1995: "Hole in the bucket" UK #55
  • 1995: "People in tha middle" UK #49
  • 1995: "Positive"
  • 1997: "U can't sing R song"
  • 1997: "Why Oh Why" UK #45
  • 1997: "Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)" (feat. Stephen Marley) (promo-only)
  • 1997: "Keep Me Lifted"
  • 2001: "Rock the Nation"
  • 2001: "Sometimes"
  • 2002: "Soulshine" (Australia-only EP)
  • 2003: "Bomb the World"
  • 2003: "Everyone Deserves Music"
  • 2009: "Obama Song" (feat. SoliLaquists of Sound, Cherine Anderson & Anthony B) (Digital Only)
  • 2009: "Say Hey (I Love You)" #18 US[23]
  • 2011: "Hey Hey Hey"

Live albums and compilations

  • 1994: Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool
  • 1998: Red Hot + Rhapsody
  • 2005: Weeds (Music from the Original TV Series)
  • 2005: Live in Sydney
  • 2005: Love Kamikaze (Singles and Remixes)
  • 2005: Live: Alaska
  • 2005: Power to the Peaceful Festival 2005 (CD & DVD)
  • 2006: Snakes on a Plane: The Album
  • 2007: Yell Fire! Live
  • 2008: CLIF GreenNotes Protect the Places We Play
  • 2008: The Wire: And All the Pieces Matter -- Five Years of Music from The Wire


  • 1992: Infinity within (album) (Deee-Lite, "Fuddy Duddy Judge" feat. Michael Franti)
  • 1995: Blue In The Face (Movie Soundtrack) ("To My Ba-Bay!" w/ Spearhead & Zap Mama)
  • 1997: Seven, "Poetry Man" (with Zap Mama and King Britt) and "Baba Hooker" (with Zap Mama)
  • 1997: Black Enough? (Steel Pulse feat. Michael Franti of Spearhead)
  • 1999: Dal Basso (Jovanotti feat. Michael Franti)
  • 2001: Stay Human, "Listener Supported" (with Zap Mama})
    Steady Pull (Jonatha Brooke feat. Michael Franti)
  • 2002: 1 Giant Leap (Jamie Catto & Duncan Bridgeman, "Passion" feat. Michael Franti)
  • 2003: The World Around (Buscemi feat. Michael Franti)
    Little Drummer Boy (Blind Boys Of Alabama feat. Michael Franti)
    There's Enough For All Of Us (Hardage feat. Michael Franti)
    My Love (E-Life feat. Michael Franti)
  • 2005: Look at All the Love We Found: A Tribute To Sublime ("What I Got" w/ Michael Franti & Spearhead featuring Gift of Gab)
  • 2006: What's This? (Franti, Gabriel Ríos and Flip Kowlier)
  • 2007: Supermoon, "Hey Brotha" (with Zap Mama)
  • 2008: Mani libere (Jovanotti feat. Michael Franti)
    The End (Sugarush Beat Company feat. Michael Franti)
  • 2009: All Rebel Rockers, "High Low" (with Zap Mama)
  • 2010: El Vecindario, "Monkey Man" (with Macaco)
  • 2011: Battiti di ali di farfalla (with Lorenzo Jovanotti Cherubini)
  • 2011: The Sound of Sunshine (with Lorenzo Jovanotti Cherubini)
    "P.O.W." (With Honest Bob)(From the album The Game)
    "I Love The Future + Praize Creation Dub + Dignity Of Struggle" (With The Fire This Time)(From the album Still Dancing On John Waynes Head)

The Beatnigs

  • 1988: The Beatnigs (album)

The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy

Appearances in media

Franti's music was featured twice on HBO's urban drama The Wire. "Oh My God" and "Rock The Nation", both from the album Stay Human, were used in two different episodes during the series' first season.[24] Franti's song "Everybody Ona Move" was featured in the pilot episode of Privileged on the CW in 2008 and also in a 2009 PlayStation 3 commercial. "Yell Fire" was used to promote the FX channel series Rescue Me and was also used in the closing credits of the pilot episode of Virtuality on Fox. Showtime's Weeds featured Franti's song "Ganja Babe" in its first season, his interpretation of the Weeds theme song "Little Boxes" in Season 3, and "Say Hey" during a flash mob scene in the premiere episode of Season 5. Philadelphia Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino uses the song "Light up Ya Lighter" as his batter walk-up music. "Say Hey (I Love You)" was used on the third episode of NBC's series Mercy, as well as in the opening scene of the 2010 film Valentine's Day. The same song was also used in 2010 in a commercial for Corona Light beer. The song is also featured on the soundtrack of the game 2010 World Cup South Africa.

He appeared as himself in the 2010 music documentary Sounds Like A Revolution.


  1. ^ a b http://www.science-spirit.org/newdirections.php?article_id=569
  2. ^ a b Conscious Choice: We Don't Stop
  3. ^ "RootsWeb: CAYOLO-L [CAYolo] Charles E. FRANTI (1933-2003) (obit.)". Archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com. http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/CAYOLO/2003-05/1054337475. Retrieved 2011-04-09. 
  4. ^ a b "I Know I'm Not Alone". Iknowimnotalone.com. http://www.iknowimnotalone.com/. Retrieved 2011-04-09. 
  5. ^ "Michael Franti & Spearhead - Gig Reviews - Music - Entertainment". Smh.com.au. 2006-09-20. http://www.smh.com.au/news/gig-reviews/michael-franti-amp-spearhead/2006/09/20/1158431763969.html?page=2. Retrieved 2011-04-09. 
  6. ^ a b c Michael Franti and Spearhead. Michael Franti: Vocals / Guitar[dead link]
  7. ^ "Music & Nightlife in Santa Cruz, CA | Music Review | Michael Franti". Metroactive.com. http://www.metroactive.com/metro/02.15.06/franti-0607.html. Retrieved 2011-04-09. 
  8. ^ Schwartz, Greg M.. "Power to the Peaceful Festival". Popmatters.com. http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/63873/power-to-the-peaceful-festival/. Retrieved 2011-04-09. 
  9. ^ Bowen, Rebecca (7 September 2007). "Power to the Peaceful Festival begins tomorrow". Paste. http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2007/09/power-to-the-peaceful-festival-begins-tomorrow.html. Retrieved 12 April 2010. 
  10. ^ "Michael Franti interview by Pete Lewis, 'Blues & Soul' February 2010". Bluesandsoul.com. http://www.bluesandsoul.com/feature/502/michael_franti_and_spearhead_on_point/. Retrieved 2011-09-12. 
  11. ^ "Artists: MichaelFranti". Aux.tv. http://www.aux.tv/users/MichaelFranti/. Retrieved 2009-09-03. 
  12. ^ http://www.michaelfranti.com
  13. ^ "Album Blog: The Sound of Sunshine Track Listing (with commentary)". Michael Franti. http://michaelfranti.com/community/blogs/album-blog-sound-sunshine-track-listing-commentary. Retrieved 2011-04-09. 
  14. ^ "Michael Franti Pushes Up 'Sound of Sunshine' Release". Billboard.com. 2009-09-14. http://www.billboard.com/news/michael-franti-pushes-up-sound-of-sunshine-1004106063.story#/news/michael-franti-pushes-up-sound-of-sunshine-1004106063.story. Retrieved 2011-04-09. 
  15. ^ "Vocals / Guitar". Michael Franti. 2011-04-05. http://michaelfranti.com/michael-franti-vocals-guitar. Retrieved 2011-04-09. 
  16. ^ "Michael Franti & Spearhead interview by Pete Lewis, 'Blues & Soul' June 2011". Bluesandsoul.com. http://www.bluesandsoul.com/feature/686/michael_franti_and_spearhead_right_down/. Retrieved 2011-09-12. 
  17. ^ Wilshire, Peter (April 1, 2006). "'I Know I'm Not Alone': A Middle-Eastern Musical Odyssey". Australian Screen Education. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P3-1153294881.html. 
  18. ^ Jacqueline Maley & Alexa Moses (2006-09-04). "Bare Foot Forward". The Sydney Morning Herald. http://www.smh.com.au/news/stay-in-touch/celebrity-blog-clog/2006/09/03/1157222007550.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap2. Retrieved 2008-09-21. 
  19. ^ "michael franti on veganism". YouTube. 2006-09-25. http://youtube.com/watch?v=woCSH2bQXes. Retrieved 2011-04-09. 
  20. ^ "Michael Franti: Barefoot Bodhisattva". College Crier. Retrieved May 5, 2008.
  21. ^ Gabler, Jay. "Nine questions for Michael Franti | Twin Cities Daily Planet | Minneapolis - St. Paul". Tcdailyplanet.net. http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/article/2009/02/06/nine-questions-michael-franti.html. Retrieved 2009-09-03. 
  22. ^ a b http://www.billboard.com/#/artist/michael-franti/chart-history/61927?f=305&g=Albums
  23. ^ http://www.billboard.com/#/artist/michael-franti/chart-history/61927
  24. ^ "The Ten Thousand Things". Tenthousand.org. 2005-07-29. http://www.tenthousand.org/?p=128/. Retrieved 2009-09-03. 

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