The Sound of Sunshine: Michael Franti of Spearhead on Peace, Justice, and Zeppelins (Interview)

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From his appearance on TreeHugger Radio, to chatting with Planet Green while on tour with John Mayer, Michael Franti has become somewhat of a regular around here. And not without good reason.Both with Spearhead, and his previous bands the Beatnigs and the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, Michael has been an advocate for peace, justice, human rights and respect for the natural world. With a new single, The Sound of Sunshine, hitting number one on Triple A radio, and a new album with the same name due out in September, we thought it was about time to catch up with the man and talk about the role of music in inspiring social and environmental change. We even got to speculate about the launch of a Spearhead Zeppelin along the way.

TreeHugger: You talked with Planet Green earlier this year, and at the time you were working hard on capturing "the Sound of Sunshine". Did it work?Michael Franti: Well, I hope so. We ended up calling our album "The Sound of Sunshine", and we have a single that's out right now tby the same name. It reached number one on Triple A radio, so I guess it's working for somebody.

TH: I guess the world must be ready for some sunshine.

MF: I guess so.

TH: What role does music play in inspiring social and environmental change? Does it galvanize the committed, or can it also win new hearts and minds?

MF: I think it can do both. I've always felt that it's not hard to become an activist—you just have to show up. But you get involved in something going on in your community, or happening around the world, and it can seem easy at first. As years go by, however, it gets more and more difficult—you think "change isn't happening as fast as it should", and you get frustrated.

Music can be there to get people involved, but it can also be there to get people through difficult times and help them to remain positive.

TH: I guess it also plays a role in connecting the dots—bringing people's attention to issues that they hadn't been aware of.

MF: Yeah. When I travel, I try to find out the issues going on wherever I am going—and find out what matters to people there. I remember when I was a kid, The Clash put out an album called Sandinista. And I had no idea who the Sandinistas were in Nicaragua. Just from that album title I found out about what was going on over there, and I got involved in that issue.

TH: Your music often veers between serious political social and environmental activism, and lighter, more joyous tones. I'm guessing you feel it's important to do both.

MF: It's really important to have a balance. If you're not enjoying your friends, and your family, and the people you meet along the way, then what's the point in doing any of the other work that you are doing? This was a big realization for me when I was traveling in Iraq in 2004 as I was making I Know I'm Not Alone.

I was in the street playing music for Iraqi families, and I would play these serious, political songs that I thought would move their hearts—show them that there were people around the world in solidarity with them. But they'd say to me "that's a great sentiment, but you're country just bombed us. So what you can do right now is play us something that makes us laugh, and dance, and sing. "

So that's what I did. It made me think about the way I do things in a whole new light.

Visit page 2 for Michael's thoughts on the intersect between personal action and wider political change, and hear about Spearhead's efforts to green their tour.

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