By Molly Barber
Photos by Molly Barber & Luke Udsen
Music is medicine. It does wonders for my spirit to find good music. Lyrics that I believe in wholeheartedly as I sing along, a beat that I can’t help but move to, and a sound that heals and rejuvenates my soul. This kind of music inspires, empowers, and motivates me. But, more than that, I think, it gives me hope. Hope in what? Everything and anything. It’s a magical medicine that I don’t want to imagine living without and recently I had the honor of interviewing one of my favorite “medicine men”- Michael Franti.
Michael Franti and Spearhead have been making music since the mid 90’s and have released 9 albums together. Apart from writing songs and creating awesome music, Michael is a filmmaker and humanitarian. He’s currently working on a film called, Stay Human that started out as the music video for his song 11:59. The film is a compilation of interviews of people who inspire Michael. “It’s about how people stay human during times of incredible challenge” he explained. Being a videographer myself I was intrigued in his passion for film. “I love film! I’m a film fanatic. One of my favorite moments in life is going to the cinema- getting popcorn, getting something to drink, sitting down in a seat, and watching so many trailers and becoming so absorbed in them that by the time that the feature comes on, I can’t remember what film I’ve come to see. I get that wrapped up in it. And so being on the other side of the camera- making films, directing our music videos and editing them, working with other people on them has been an incredible joy to me. And the thing that I love about it is that there’s something that’s very powerful about combining music with visuals.”
We spoke about his documentary a little more and he went into some of the characters he’s interviewed. One is a midwife from the Philippines who was delivering babies in the rubble and debris of hurricane Yolanda. Another is a surfer in Indonesia who works with indigenous people who are reforesting with bamboo- which grows in five years time instead of forests which grow over hundreds of years. Then there’s Hope and Steve Dezember, the two who would inspired Michael and his wife Sara to start their non-profit.
Michael and his wife had been wanting to do something together that would be some way to give back to the community. It was around this time that Hope and Steve Dezember started reaching out to Michael. “[Hope] started tweeting me saying, ‘My husband Steve is in very advanced stages of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and he would love to meet you.’ So we invited them to come to our concert.” Michael said. At this point Steve could only move his lips and his eyes, the rest of his body was paralyzed.
Steve and Hope were on the side of the stage and when Michael and the band were playing their song, Life’s Better With You. Steve whispers into Hope’s ear, “I wanna get up and dance.” So with all her strength she lifted him out of the wheel chair and shared this beautiful dance with him in front of 20,000 people. “And everyone’s cheering and crying for them and I’m in tears and after the show I asked Steve, ‘What does this mean to you?’ And he said, ‘You know, this was one of the most game changing moments in the evolution of my life right now. Yesterday when I was wheeling around the festival people weren’t really looking at me, they had a hard time
connecting to me and after that moment, I became Steve. People started saying ‘Hi, Steve’, ‘Great to meet you Steve, we’re super happy you’re here.’ So Sara and I said let’s do this for as many families as we possibly can. So we started Do It For The Love.” The mission for their non-profit is to bring children, adults and veterans with serious medical conditions or special needs to see ANY live concert, by ANY artist, in ANY city in North America. “And today we’ve sent over 1,000 families to see everything from Drake and Beyonce to Garth Brooks to Metallica to the Opera. We really believe in the healing power of music and that’s why we do it.”
The power of music is something they really do believe in. “I listen to music because it’s my medicine chest. I ask, ‘what mood am I in?’ I need to get going in the morning so I put on some Bob Marley, that’ll make me feel happy and inspired and help me get up and move my body. If I’m pissed off I put on Rage Against the Machine and I just scream in my bedroom by myself. Being in our house is a constant of picking out music that doesn’t just fit our mood but it alters our mood. You know? It’s medicine in that way. You know it physically changes the cells in our body, you know, when we listen to music. It makes us change and opens us up to emotions that we didn’t even realize were there.”
This is what I love about Michael and his band- they truly love music and you can tell it when they are playing. They’re having fun and they want you to have fun too. One of the coolest things about the concert I attended was that Michael had mini stages set up throughout the venue and he walks through the crowd to preform on them. The experience of seeing a Spearhead concert was amazing, there’s so much interaction with the fans and they don’t act like ‘rockstars’. They invited fans to come on stage and dance and with them. Then after the show they didn’t go backstage but instead walked around meeting the audience and joining the crowd to take photos. “I love getting in the crowd. I love meeting the people who come to our shows.” Michael said. And they don’t just meet people at their shows. They invite them to come to their yoga sessions beforehand.
It was at one of these yoga sessions that Michael met Joselyn Goldman, a 9-year-old girl who played him a cover of his song, Love Will Find A Way. Michael was so in awe at this little girl he asked her if she wanted to join him on stage that night to perform that song with him. She accepted, so later on, in front of the hundreds of fans who showed up to The Whale Rock Festival, Joselyn performed Love Will Find A Way with Michael Franti and Spearhead.
During our interview I asked Michael “If you could have another artist cover one of your songs, who would you want that to be?” he replied without hesitation, “If I could choose anybody in the world it would be Joselyn.”
I know I say this like all the time but you HAVE to see them live. Put it on your bucket list, do what you have to do- this is just one of those things you need to experience. They have a style that’s impossible not to dance to and a song for everyone. Plus, the whole being part of the crowd thing is still surreal to me. “We call our fans SoulRockers and what a SoulRocker is, is a person who lives from their heart, who has compassion for all, who has a tenacious enthusiasm for music, for people and for the planet. Our fans really are like that, they are people who really care about what’s happening in the world. They wanna give back in some way. They care about our environment, they care about our communities and they love to party and dance and LOVE music. I’m that same person and if I wasn’t doing it on stage I’d be in the audience at someone else’s show doing the same thing. So I love to get into the crowd, during the show but also before and after.”
This band is something special. You can check them out on iTunes or at their website www.michaelfranti.com. I would also recommend watching both of Joselyn’s performances which can be found on her youtube channel-Joselyn Sky.
I’ve tried really hard to paint you a picture of how awesome this band is because here’s the thing- I believe in the magic of music. I believe it has powers unique to all of us and if I can pass on that magic to other people, maybe that music can imprint on them and become a part of them. Maybe it can be there for them in good times and bad, be whatever they need it to be. Michael Franti and Spearhead’s music is a love-letter to the human race. And I’m passing this love letter from me to you.