Michael Franti has a way of saying things you know already, and singing melodies that you’re sure you’ve heard before, and yet making it all seem like a miraculous moment.
Take, for example, the title track to his 2006 album, “Yell Fire.” Against an infectious dancehall groove, Franti growls in rhythm about the compulsions of our culture:
“Everyone addicted to the same nicotine, everyone addicted to the same gasoline / Everyone addicted to the Technicolor screen, Everybody tryin’ to get their hands on the same green.”
Nothing necessarily new to that – especially when you suddenly realize that the sing-song rhythm of the verses is pretty much a straight transposition of the Latin-pop megahit, “Macarena.”
Yet the song will get you shouting along with its chorus in no time, feeling the fire of passions that this dreadlocked 43-year-old singer has ignited in hundreds of thousands of fans around the world, ever since he burst onto the scene in the early 1990s as vocalist with the seminal industrial rap outfit, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.
Boasting a bass voice of seemingly bottomless depths and radiant warmth, Franti has a way of making everything he says or sings sound important; and he has employed that gravity to draw listeners into the causes that motivate him.
On “Yell Fire,” those causes were largely narrowed to decrying the “sweet little lies” that justified the Iraq war. In fact, the album was his first after touring the Middle East, where he performed both for soldiers and local audiences. On earlier albums, Franti focused his flame on questioning the death penalty and counting the ills of globalization.
Not surprisingly, Franti and his backing band, Spearhead, have become favorites of political progressives, whose support has buoyed Franti’s stardom despite a near-complete lack of major-label support or radio airplay. Franti’s line, “We can bomb the world to pieces, but we can’t bomb it into peace,” from the song “Bomb the World,” is now a fixture of placards at peace rallies around the world.
His latest album, 2008’s “All Rebel Rockers,” finds Franti in a more relaxed place than on previous records; he sounds like he’s almost sleeping through the meditative chant, “All I Want is You.” On other tracks, the political critiques of previous records have largely been replaced by an overarching message of love and peace. Franti recorded the album in Jamaica, with legendary reggae producers Sly & Robbie on the consoles; the result is his most focused and upbeat record in years.
So who cares if the bass line from “Soundsystem” sounds a little too much like Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”? Done this way, it actually seems to mean something.
In recent years, Michael Franti and Spearhead have reliably drawn capacity crowds to performances at the Wilma Theatre. Next week, on Sept. 23, the band will perform an outdoor concert at Ryan Creek Meadows, a new outdoor venue near Beavertail Hill State Park. With room for upwards of 8,000 people, tickets to the concert likely won’t sell out this time. For directions and ticket information, visit www.RyanCreekMeadows.com.