Music

Michael Franti

Michael Franti and the Spearhead’s first album, “Home” from 1994 has a song in it called Piece O’ Peace, in which the first line says: “Every million miles ya haffe tek a first step”. The idea of peace is often something that seems elusive, and maybe even unachievable in our time, but then there are artists like Franti who fight this idea by living and sharing a peaceful life with people he meets; whether it’s those in an audience doing yoga with him before his show, or people in Iraq after they welcome him into their homes to share laughter, tea, and stories about humanity. These are just a few of Franti’s steps towards achieving peace at home and throughout the world with the help of music.

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Your life and your work seem very poetic. What is it that drives you to reach out to people and spread the message of creating a peaceful world?
Well what drives me is that I have a desire and a belief that all of us have this unique opportunity in our lives — and that opportunity is to each day learn to better get along with each other and to make the world a little bit better then when we got here. And music is a really great way of doing that because music is something that accesses the soul, the heart, so when our bodies become tired — like mine is today [laughs] — and our minds become taxed, it’s our souls that opens all of us and [says] “you know you can go a little bit further, you can try a little bit harder, you can love a little bit more”. And that’s when things really change in the world, because [people] get run down and as they get run down, it’s often when their souls close off and they lose their empathy, they lose their compassion, they lose their wiliness to try and reach out to others, or to try to do something for others. And music is one of the things that accesses that part of us and I love music for that reason.

For your documentary [I Know I’m Not Alone] you went to Iraq, Palestine, and Israel. As an activist, how do you support change from here, at home?
One of things that I learnt when I was in Iraq, and in Israel and the Palestinian Territories was that everywhere I went, I met people who were risking their lives each day to achieve peace. I met Iraqi families who would take me into their homes where they hid during the bombing and [I met] soldiers who said, “I came here a day after September 11th. I signed up to join the army because I though Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, that he was involved in 9/11. And I got here and found out it was all lies” you know. And I met Israeli and Palestinian families who had lost family members in the conflict there and in the occupation and who said that we don’t want our family member’s deaths to be used as a cry for war, we want it to be used as a cry to end all wars. And that they don’t want the pain that they felt to be experienced by anyone else on the planet.

So as a communicator of that, I realized that you don’t have to choose sides – you don’t have to choose sides based on nationality — that you can choose to be on the side of the peacemakers from which ever country you come from. And in every country, there are people that are willing to go to great lengths to achieve peace. … In the case of the Palestinian-Israeli situation [where] you have people that are living under occupation for a long time, you know some people since right after WWII and other people since 1967, and living with everyday soldiers in their lives breaking into their homes, barricading, and you know blocking them off with a wall from their own land and it’s suffering and enduring incredible hardship and they fight back. And in doing so, you have people who living in Israel grow up in fear that if they were to walk into a supermarket or café or were to get into a bus it might blow up. And so I think that the way to really best communicate is to try to listen to both sides and to be respectful of the loss of both.

Michael Franti-03_VSM Photography

©VSM Photgraphy

And when we start comparing and counting and saying a hundred people were killed here and two hundred people were killed here and oh a thousand were killed here and a million were killed here and twenty million were killed…we don’t get anywhere. So, I wrote a song Bomb the World that says “you can bomb the world to pieces but we can’t bomb it into peace” and I really believe that — that the more political violence that we enact, you get more in return. And it doesn’t matter if it’s next week or the next generation. You use political violence to try and solve a problem; you get more political violence back at ya. When we use peace, and we use music, and we use food, we share land, and we share resources, and we create jobs and opportunity and health care and education for people, then they’re a lot less likely to strap a bomb onto their body and walk into a supermarket.

You briefly lived in Edmonton when you were in grade nine. Coming back to the city [for Folk Fest], how has that connection influenced your performances?
Well you know it’s always emotional for me to come back here because I remember being in grade nine — which for everyone is one of the most difficult parts of their lives [laughs] — and so I have great, very positive, and glowing memories of this time and I have emotions from a very dark place in my childhood. And so it’s always healing to come back here and to see things that are familiar. Like I was out in front of this hotel and there was this clock that’s got these great winding gears on it and I saw it today and I remembered seeing it when I was a kid. And seeing the river and seeing some of the things that haven’t changed. And then you see things that have really changed like the skyline and just how far it is — I remember to get to the airport there was nothing to the edge of the city for miles and miles or kilometers I should say [smiles]. So you get to the airport and now it’s like the city almost goes out to the airport. It’s just neat to come back and see all that.

Read the original here.

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Watching the “Young and the Restless”: A Folk Fest Experiment

What do you get when you throw together folk bands, one of which who called their music “therapeutic” with a Celtic-Bhangra band who takes their audience on an “acid trip” as they called it, with their electronic based beats, and get them to play random songs together? This isn’t the start of a bad joke – but it had the potential to be.

On Friday, August 9 unexpected magic happened at the Edmonton Folk Festival on stage 6, when the “Young and the Restless” session featuring The Head and the Heart, Neko Case, Rayland Baxter, and Delhi 2 Dublin took the stage all at once. All four bands played ten minute sets and then finished with an improvised performance which all four bands participated in all at once.

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Picture of The Head and the Heart taken by Vic Mittal of VSM Photography.

As the name of the session suggests, all performers were young adults who brought a “youthful”, confident energy to the music they performed. But this isn’t what made their performance that day, successful. It worked because all bands were having a conversation with each other through their music about love and culture and even about hanging out and talking with Jesus (based on a lighthearted, humorous dream that Rayland Baxter once had and then decided to turn into a song), within a safe place – indeed, kind of like an onstage therapy session. All four bands talked/performed without pressuring each other or competing with one another to overshadow the other’s performances.

So what do you get in the end? A blend of styles that showed the audience that music always has room to surprise, amuse, and charm listeners as it did at “The Young and the Restless”.

See my review for Marker Magazine here: http://markermagazine.com/a-folk-fest-experiment/

A YEG State of Mind: An Interview with Hip-Hop’s Locution Revolution

In Edmonton, as an entertainment and festival capital, many different cultures are celebrated. Hip-hop culture is a quieter force than many of the arts and cultures exposed throughout the city, but it’s growing strong. Hip-hop in Edmonton experiments with its own distinct sound, pulled together from the many art and cultural influences within the city. Locution Revolution is one talent creating their own YEG [“Young. Edmontonian. Gifted.” — a label promoted by local designer Solidaritees] sound that iD (a member of the group) told me is “grown folk-country-banjo-urban-rap hip-hop”.

How does Edmonton inspire your music?

iD: I would say it’s almost indirect — you don’t know it’s there, but it is. You listen to rap from around here and it has its own sound. You don’t hear songs about three feet of snow from rappers in California, but you hear three feet of snow raps in Edmonton.

So is the city in a way your muse?

Khiry Tafari: It’s about reping where you’re from. It’s a lot about making it your own and representing YEG.

So how does representing YEG make hip-hop stand out from places like Toronto?

iD: We have totally different sounds, especially if you look at Toronto and you look at Edmonton and they’re polar opposites almost — for the most part, Toronto has a more commercial sound and Edmonton sounds are more…

Khiry Tafari: Diverse.

iD: Yeah, there’s a whole lot of different sounds, and I’m sure Toronto has a whole lot that I haven’t been exposed to underneath the surface…but Edmonton and a Prairie rap sound comes right down to the dialect [here in the city].

I’ve noticed that here people try and get back to the roots of hip-hop — especially in trying to stand out and make people take notice of what you’re doing.

iD: Yeah and I think that’s something that just happens. You don’t try to be Edmonton [by MCing]… it grows when you develop a style, you develop a sound, and that’s how it’s developed.

Khiry Tafari: Hip-hop is very community minded…. We also realized no one would put us on the map unlike a bigger centre like Toronto, so we had to step it up.

Do you have a message for people who look at hip-hop as offensive?

Khiry Tafari: I’d say, let us perform for you. Someone who watched us and had his own [negative] notions of hip-hop once told us once “you guys have something to say” and he was just in amazement because he saw that rap and hip-hop is who we are and that our messages about living life comes through.

iD: Nobody is going to rap the same way as you — that’s what makes us individuals. Rap has so much influence, especially for kids coming up, and they often play a part because of what they’re hearing. So if you think about your song becoming a hit and everybody in the world gets to hear it, what is it that you really want to say? Do you want to be bragging about swag and popping bottles and hanging with models? You’ve got the floor use it! Otherwise people aren’t going to give you floor next time — it’s a privilege not a right to be on the microphone.

Khiry Tafari: When I was starting out, it was all about battles — about earning respect.

How is your music different from your fellow artists in Edmonton?          

iD: The dynamic between us is “unduplicatable”. Individually, I’m a country boy. I’ve got a whole different experience from growing up in the countryside. But together, we both bring something completely original to our sound.

Khiry Tafari: Overall, we’re not afraid — we’re entirely different from everyone else. He’s the country guy and I’m the city guy. For any one band to rise, to be the cream of the crop, you have to be different or have something going for you — that “it” factor. And together, we’re dynamic, we complement each other.

What’s the personal connection between you and rap?

Khiry Tafari: I never knew what I wanted to do [when I was young] until I started rapping at 22-23. I liked being on stage. Rap allowed me to use my voice to do valuable work. When I was a kid, I liked to prove people wrong — listening to De La Soul’s “I Can Do Anything” — I took that literally. But I was also athletic, but I also came to a point where I wanted to show people what I could do with my brain. I wanted people to see that I could do other things. And, I’ve developed other skills by being a rapper too — like being able to work with kids.

iD: Because I was willing to do the work [to become a rapper] it made me see that I can do anything!

What direction do you see hip-hop heading in the future?

Khiry Tafari: It’s hard to say…Rap music has been about borrowing from other sounds. Where we as musicians come in, we decide what our vibe [sound is]. You’re always going to get an original sound — my ear will always hear a different sound.

iD: With hip-hop there’s always going to be challenges and there will always be people to school.

Khiry Tafari: Focusing on the negatives [of hip-hop], means we’re going backwards, and we need to progress — and our words, our dialect have to show that peace, love, unity, and bringing up the youth for the future.

iD: Hip-hop is the future. It’s the only place that where you come from doesn’t matter.