Michael Franti is famous for singing powerful messages of peace while strumming his gee-tar. He is most notably the front man for Spearhead and a former member of Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. He’s also my new fantasy boyfriend and I love him. And now he’s got a new documentary, too, called I Know I’m Not Alone, which chronicles Franti’s travels to the Middle East, playing his music and talking to civilians and soldiers, mainly about how the war is affecting their lives.
I spoke with Franti by telephone recently about his film experiences. I was only on the phone a few minutes when I realized that he’s the Most Fabulous Being in Existence. Michael Franti, Michael Franti, Michael Franti… ahh…
Maui Time Weekly: Hi, Michael! Forgive me for asking this but… what did you have for breakfast this morning?
Michael Franti: I had this great drink called “I Am Beautiful.” There’s this place in San Francisco—Cafe Gratitude—where every item is an affirmation. I also had an “I Am Elated” enchilada.
Wow. I think we could use a Cafe Gratitude here on Maui. I could really go for an “I Am Independently Wealthy” pancake right about now… So after filming your doc, what was one thing you didn’t realize going into it?
The first thing is—how hard it is to make a film! When we went to Iraq, Israel and Palestine, it was how war affects every person involved. And how the pain that comes about from war doesn’t lead us to be a more unified, more just world. It only leads to more fear, more violence.
I know you must have a lot of intense memories of your time spent in the Middle East. But what was one standout moment of humility you remember?
Getting on an airplane and the pilot telling us that in order to avoid shoulder-launched missiles, he would have to nose-dive [and take some sharp turns] to get to the airport. That was a very humbling, hair-raising experience.
What about a moment of optimism or hope?
Meeting people who’ve suffered—kids in the hospital with their legs blown off from cluster bombs, and who are still smiling. Time and time again, I met people who remained positive despite all the violence they’ve suffered. You know, living in America, we have people who complain they don’t get TV reception.
What was a particularly scary moment for you?
There were two—tons actually. There was the exhilarating plane ride, where we were screaming like we were on a rollercoaster. And then we land and immediately see, “We’re in a war here.” We’re driving and there were cars on the road that had been blown up and there were people still in them, on fire. I was talking to some soldiers where a big explosion happened—pretty soon, though, the explosions and gunfire became background noise. I guess if it’s not in your face, you just go on with your life.
Any lighthearted moments there?
I wrote this little song in Arabic with just one word—“Habibi.” It means “sweetheart” or just your really close friend. Everyone says it there as a greeting. Like, “Hey dude!” They say, “Habibi! Habibi!” So I made up this song and everyone would dance. It proves that with just a few chords on the guitar and a little effort, music can smooth away tensions. Also, hearing other musicians there made me realize how important music is to everyone. Music is man’s right.
Amen. So which song of yours was the best received there?
“Never Too Late.” All the lyrics are “Don’t fear…” and it ends with “it’s never to late to start the day over…” People really responded to that.
What album did you really respond to?
Hmm… there were so many albums that changed my life. Probably the biggest was Uprising, by Bob Marley. That was the first time I ever heard reggae and I went back and bought the rest of his albums. I just loved the music and the rhythm. And then I heard what he had to say, and I how he would plant seeds in music that later take hold.
Yeah. I think you do that pretty well, too.
Oh, thank you!
I Know I’m Not Alone
Thursday, 8 p.m. at Maui Digital SkyDome, Wailea Marriott. 104 min. MTW