Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Michael Franti and Spearhead in Concert


I discovered Michael Franti's music approximately three years ago when I downloaded a collaborative Marley cover he did with the husky-voiced Stephen Marley. One year later, I found the album this song belonged to and promptly bought it. The album, Chocolate Supa Highway is an eclectic mix of funk, reggae, soul and hip hop. I immediately appreciated Franti's deep soulful voice and simple but effective lyricism. I bought Stay Human and Everyone Deserves Music shortly afterwards and thoroughly enjoyed both albums; although the former remains my favourite. Later, I bought Songs from the Front Porch, an acoustic album, which is also enjoyable.
On a warm Sunday night at the Ottawa Bluesfest I had the opportunity to watch Michael Franti perform alongside his band, Spearhead. I waited patiently alongside my beautiful wife and our friend for Annie DiFranco to finish her set, and then waited further for the crew to set up for Michael Franti. Finally, the band appeared: bassist Carl Young (not to be confused with Karl Jung), uber-guitarist Dave Shul (I just wanted to use "uber" somewhere in this review), drummer Manas Itiene (formerly of Nigerian reggae group "the Mandators), and some guy on keyboards.
The band began playing a throbbing reggae riff and Franti appeared on stage juggling a soccer ball. Franti, who must be at least 6"3, was surprisingly agile for a musician. Franti immediately asked if there were any French fans in the crowd and immediately cried, "Viva Italia!" Apparently, Franti had taken in a game down on Preston and was enthused by the Italy's rather lacklustre performance. Yeah, I said it --- France deserved that game and Italy was lucky to make it to the second round, nevermind the final.
Ah well, it matters little now. Franti launched into his first songs and the crowd loved every minute of it. From reggae to funk to rock to hip hop, Franti played it all. As marijuana smoke wafted through the air (yes, marijuana smoke invariably "wafts" in the same way that Dutchman are "dour" and area witnesses testify "that nothing like this ever happens in this neighbourhood") the energetic concert continued. The crowd of approximately 16,000 heard the new cuts from Franti's upcoming album "Yell Fire" which, if the live performance is any indication, is going to be a superb effort. The dreadlocked Franti danced about the stage and, like any good frontman, gave his band every opportunity to show their talents. Dave Shul is, in my amateur estimation, a stunning guitarist with masterful skill. Manas Itiene was fire on the drums and even added some decent raggamuffin vocals to the mix. I once heard a radio host dismiss bass players as unnecessary, which is probably among the dumbest things I ever heard on the radio; but if that obtuse radio host had witnessed Carl Young playing that bass, he would have immediately retired from broadcasting.
Franti's politics lie somewhere to the left of John Lennon singing Kumbaya, but one can't dismiss the passion, love, and pure uplifting power of his music. From environmentalism and world justice to peace and legalization, Franti sings what is on his heart. The world needs idealists like Franti to counter the often sociopathic excesses of so-called realists. Michael Franti and Spearhead are definitely worth seeing live and I would whole-heartedly recommend attending one of his concerts if you ever get the chance.

Thank you Laurianne, for such a great birthday gift.

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