"It's that inspiration when we come together that helps us feel that rush of humanity and go back to our lives and wherever we come from and filter that spirit."
Known for his political commentary, social activism and ardent drive to stimulate change through the power of music, it's unsurprising to find Michael Franti heading home from a fundraiser for Do It For The Love — his not-for-profit foundation established to take disadvantaged people to live shows — as The Music catches up with him. He's an inspiring fellow, and through a deep Californian drawl he communicates his passions and concerns in a manner that makes one feel, for a brief moment, that if there were more Franti's in this world, everything would be okay.
"Its greatest power is its ability to bring people together and to create a community," starts Franti on the importance of live music in his life. "Especially these days when we're so connected to our phones, the internet, it's great for people to just get together and be together in the same place and celebrate life, loving life, and then also finding ways that all of this can work for the betterment of our planet and work for peace on a daily basis. It's that inspiration when we come together that helps us feel that rush of humanity and go back to our lives and wherever we come from and filter that spirit."
"It's great for people to just get together and be together in the same place and celebrate life, loving life..."
With a rich and vibrant reputation for celebrating musical and cultural diversity over its 30-year history, Woodford Folk Festival is certainly the place for Franti then.
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"[I knew about Woodford] mainly from other artists and just fans when playing in Australia. We've played Byron [Bay Bluesfest] a whole bunch; people have said that Woodford is a sister energy to what's taking place at Byron. And I've always loved roots music and the guitar and the voice, and the simple power of those two things together is just something that really has inspired my music career. So that's what we're doing, it's just J [Bowman from Spearhead] and I, two guitars. We've been in Miami for the last three weeks working with two really great Jamaican producers — Super Dups and another guy named Di Genius who is the son of a reggae legend Freddie McGregor. And so we've been combining what those guys do with like dance hall and dance music and electronic music, and putting it together with what I do with the acoustic guitar.
"When we come to Woodford it's gonna be a combination — kinda like when Bob Dylan went electric and everybody was outraged — it's gonna be Franti goes electronic!" he laughs. "[It will be] acoustic guitars and doing some stuff that's just straight up acoustic and then we're gonna match it up with some electronic wizardry and turn it into a big dance party… For the last nine years we've done lots of acoustic stuff, everythin' from playin' on a street corner — which we still do all the time and love — or just grabbin' our guitars and going out and playing for fans before our shows, to playing in prisons to doin' lots of yoga events…" says Franti, who will fly from Bali where he owns a yoga retreat centre for just one day in Australia to perform at Woodford.
Franti is well read and actively engaged about the issues of the countries he visits; he considers it part of his role as a humanitarian. And he's not one to wax lyrical to win brownie points with the local audiences, only to swan off home either. On his last visit to our shores, he played at an immigration detention centre to highlight the plight of the people and families stuck in limbo or sent back to the terrors they've fled, and even mentions the tragedy of Port Arthur and the collective voice that rallied for change to address gun violence. It's important for Australians to hear the perspective and positivity of an outsider of Franti's calibre.
"I love it," he says of Australia. "I came the first time in 1993 and I remember having read books about the history of Australia… and the Indigenous people there and the trials and tribulations that have taken place since James Cook first landed there until the present. It's been a long journey for people to become this unique country that has its own set of beauties and its own set of challenges, and just to see the way that people are navigating through them has been inspiring because I live in a country that shares a similar complicated history. And for all of us today who believe in working every day at making our countries a better place, it's inspiring to go somewhere else and see people who are doin' the same thing."