For all its questionable authority, Wikipedia has a means of prioritizing facts such that the first sentence of any entry is often alarmingly telling. It’s little wonder then that Michael Franti’s entry begins thusly: “Michael Franti (born April 21, 1966, in Oakland) is an American poet, musician, and composer of African, American Indian, Irish, French, and German descent.” This is telling in that the author of Franti’s micro-biography deemed Franti’s diverse ethnicity second in importance only to the most basic details of his career. He’s a musician who is multiracial.
And indeed, Franti’s multiculturalism has been his biggest selling point since the earliest days of his band Spearhead. The same image of worldliness and multicultural awareness remains the primary focus on Spearhead’s latest, All Rebel Rockers. Recorded in Kingston, Jamaica, with famed reggae producers Sly & Robbie, All Rebel Rockers adopts reggae’s deep bass grooves, syncopated staccato guitars, and lyrics that mesh spirituality with politics — owing to the Marley school of songwriting. And at times it comes off a bit forced. The pairing of “Rude Boys Back in Town” and “A Little Bit of Riddim” are so tied to reggae-specific imagery that it borders on stereotype — think Combat Rock, not Natty Dread. Still, Franti’s lyrics place his beliefs and motivations into simple terms: “A little bit of riddim make the world go ’round,” he chants through the chorus of “Rock with Me,” “I’m a human being, y’all.”
Franti’s messages of global understanding and unity are stated in no uncertain terms. This is where Franti & Spearhead are at their most consistent: making easily digestible statements into idealistic manifestos. But deeper into the LP, the sloganeering and typecasting of earlier cuts gives way to a proper mélange of worldly sounds, and Franti gives the politics some breathing room. On the record, he sings a lot about the transformative powers of music. But it’s when he doesn’t have to sing about them that his message seems most believable.
Michael Franti & Spearhead share the bill with Cherine Anderson and Courtney John at the Music Farm (32 Ann St., 843-853-3276) on Sat, Feb. 21. 8 p.m. Admission is $25. Visit www.musicfarm.com and www.spearheadvibrations.com for more.
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