Michael Franti is one of the music world’s true chameleons. The dynamic performer started off doing punk, industrial and alt-hip-hop in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with the Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, raging against the machine about social injustices. For the past 20 years, he’s made more harmonious sounds with his band Spearhead, mixing pop, rock, reggae, funk and soul, still with an ear toward human rights but focusing more on the power of unity and love rather than outrage.
Franti and Spearhead take the stage on Halloween night at Revolution in Fort Lauderdale in support of their latest album, “All People,” featuring the hit “I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like).” He talked to Miami.com about the show, why his music is more uplifting and hopeful these days, and why he’s gone barefoot almost 24/7 for the past 13 years.
Halloween night can get pretty wild down here – you guys ready?
Well, first of all, I’ve gotta figure out some costumes for everybody that will be suitably freaky but that you can still play a guitar in. We live in San Francisco, and I’ve never been to Halloween in Miami, but I can tell you San Francisco can rival any city in terms of far-out Halloween demonstrations, so we’ll have to make sure we bring our A-game.
Did you plan your tour so that the South Florida date would fall on Halloween night?
We didn’t exactly plan it, but I’m thinking that the Halloween goddess has had us in her stars for a while.
So how much will we hear from “All People,” and what else can we expect from the show?
On this tour, we’ve been playing about half songs from the new record and half from older albums, even going back to our first records. And it’s been fun for us to go through our lists of old songs and think, “Wow, what’s something that we haven’t played in a long time – let’s pull it out.” And you sort of rediscover it – you remember the songs in a different way. But the new record plays well live, too, because when we were writing and recording it, we were on tour. And so every night we’d try the songs out on the audience and then go back into our studio and change the songs up based on the reaction we saw from the crowd. So they were all really road-tested songs before we even finished the record.
You’ve had so many cool collaborations with different musicians over the years – what are the chances that any surprise guests might show up and join you onstage Halloween night?
You know, we play the night before the Rombello Cruise, which leaves from the Port of Miami the next day – it’s like a floating music festival. So a lot of those artists will be around, and I’m gonna see who’s gonna be on the boat the next day that I can round up. Hopefully, some of them will show.
Your songwriting seems to have turned more toward uplifting, sing-along tunes rather than angry political statements. What happened?
You know, everywhere I went in the world where there was intense political activity, whether it was playing on the streets of Baghdad or playing the Gaza Strip or San Quentin prison, people didn’t wanna hear songs that were speaking out against war. They wanted to hear songs that made them laugh and dance and sing and inspire them emotionally. And I’m the same way. It’s like there’s a full spectrum of emotions that exist inside me, and I want music that serves all of those emotions. My favorite artists are the ones who are really able to do that, like John Lennon or Bob Marley or Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder. They’d write songs about how concerned they were about the world and put it right next to a song about their girlfriend. And then the next song would be about partying on Friday night.
Do you feel that the world has changed for the better over your career?
Yeah, I think so. The divide that exists between rich and poor is statistically greater than it ever has been, and that leads to a whole set of circumstances that are difficult for more and more people. But in terms of where the world is today socially, it’s amazing to see that the U.S. military allows gay people to have freedom and even marry when it’s not the law of the land in our country. [Laughs] I never would have imagined 10 years ago that the military would be more progressive than the rest of the country. So when I see things like that, it’s exciting. And when I see how people are eating healthier food and wanting to contribute to making the planet more green – there’s just more awareness than there ever has been.
Are you still mostly going barefoot? And why did you start?
Yes. I started 13 years ago, when I would travel to countries where kids couldn’t afford to wear shoes. And when I’d kick my shoes off to play soccer with them, my feet would hurt. I couldn’t even take three steps without screaming. So I decided to go barefoot for three days to toughen up my feet back home in San Francisco. And then I went for a week, and a month, and a year, and at 10 years we partnered with this organization called Soles For Souls, which started after Hurricane Katrina. There was a man in the shoe business who started collecting shoes for people who had lost everything in Katrina. And since then, we’ve gone on to deliver shoes around the world to 60 different countries, so I work with them to get the word out about what they’re doing, and also to collect shoes during our concerts.