SUNDAY TIMES - US muso Michael Franti isn't about to ignore injustice in the name of popularity
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Sunday Times Entertainment By Yolisa Mkele, 2017-04-13 00:00:00.0

US muso Michael Franti isn't about to ignore injustice in the name of popularity

The hip hop king from the US thinks musicians shouldn't shy away from social issues
Image: Supplied

For an artist, having opinions on social justice can be as dangerous as juggling a black mamba and a pair of sea urchins while breakdancing.

Pull it off and you look cooler than a polar bear in Dolce & Gabbana. Get it wrong, however, and you'll be condemned to the firing squad by the court of public opinion.

US musician and poet Michael Franti has been pulling off the polar bear look for a quarter of a century.

"I feel like music is really powerful and can be a catalyst for change," he said.

In his hip hop, funk, reggae and folk-infused career Franti has tackled subjects such as misogyny, homophobia and "the evils of capitalism" long before they became buzz words of the nouveau woke.

His perseverance in articulating his truth through music, regardless of whether it finds commercial success, reflects an earnestness seldom seen in popular music these days.

Being socially conscious, however, can be a difficult road to travel for an artist, particularly when it all seems to come to naught.

"I've been making socially conscious music for the last 25 years and some days I do feel like for all this time we're actually going backward," he said.

But this creeping despondence is always quickly dispelled when he meets the people his music touches. As an example he cites a woman whose husband was partially paralysed who got in touch with him to ask a favour. Fearing that time was running out for her husband she asked Franti if he would meet him.

Franti invited the couple to one of his shows and during his set watched as the husband, with great difficulty, asked his wife to lift him so that he could dance.

"The lady picked him up with all her strength and in that moment I saw how powerful music can be.

"Finding stories like that about what people are going through, and how music can help them through difficult times, is incredible for me," he said.

That episode moved him so much that he's now making a movie about how music can help people cope with the adversity.

WATCH the music video for Michael Franti & Spearhead's The Sound Of Sunshine

 

People tend to be divided on whether musicians should take public stances and it's easy to see why.

On the one hand, musicians have access to massive audiences, so lending their voice to a cause can greatly amplify the noise around it.

Most musicians, though, tend not to be experts on social issues, like Lil Wayne when discussing Black Lives Matter.

"Every citizen has a right to voice his opinion. What it comes back to is core values. If someone makes party music then it's often hard for them to be taken seriously," Franti said.

Just because he has a conscience doesn't mean that Franti is some angry left-wing liberal haranguing people from the pulpit of righteousness.

Find this out when he gets here this weekend.

Michael Franti will be performing at the Lush Festival, in Clarens, on Saturday, April 15, and across the country during Easter. For more information visit michaelfranti.com

This article was originally published in The Times.