Michael Franti has been ruffling the feathers of the music industry for over 20 years now and he shows no signs of slowing down in the new millennium. Franti began in the mid-1980s with his first band, The Beatnigs, which scored a couple of releases on Alternative Tentacles before breaking up. In 1991, Franti and Beatnigs percussionist Rose Tse returned with the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprosy, an amazing aggregation that combined the squalling throes of Industrial Punk, the hypnotic swell of aggressive Ambient Pop and the throbbing insistence of Hip Hop, all in the service of lyrics that addressed the social, political and cultural inequities inherent in modern society. The group’s debut album, 1992’s Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury
, featured the Beatnigs’ song “Television, the Drug of the Nation,” and earned the band good reviews, end-of-year accolades and an opening slot on U2’s Zoo TV Tour.
After recording the backing music for readings by William Burroughs on Spare Ass Annie and Other Stories, DHOH called it a day and Franti teamed up with colleague Carl Young in a new project he called Spearhead
. Eschewing political leanings for a Funk and Soul soundtrack, Spearhead signed with Capitol and released two well-received albums, 1994’s Home
and 1997’s Reggae-flecked Chocolate Supa Highway
. A split with the label, which owned the Spearhead name, forced Franti to attach his own name to the band to avoid legal issues.
Franti returned to a more militant political stance on subsequent MF&S albums — 2000’s anti-death penalty/prison reform tome Stay Human, 2003’s eclectic Rock/Funk sonic stew Everyone Deserves Music, 2006’s incendiary Yell Fire! and 2008’s Jamaica-recorded All Rebel Rockers — voicing strong opinions on the human and economic cost of war (especially with his 2006 film, I Know I’m Not Alone), social injustice and environmental issues.
MF&S dropped their latest set, The Sound of Sunshine, less than a month ago, mixing Reggae and Hip Hop rhythms with a Funk/Soul foundation, a Rock/Folk undercurrent and a slight leavening of Franti’s political rhetoric. But with mid-term elections looming and conservatives in a Tea Party state of mind, don’t be surprised if Michael Franti & Spearhead bring the Funk, noise and politics back to the forefront on their current tour.
Michael Franti & Spearhead play Madison Theater Friday. Go here for tickets and venue details.