It was my first day in Professor Bob Jensen’s Journalism class and without a welcoming word he dimmed the lights and punched play to a music video by Michael Franti & Spearhead.
Within the first minute of the video, I was hooked to these wild and revolutionary-charged grooves. I mean HOOKED!!! I hadn’t felt this good about music since Rage Against the Machine reigned during the ‘90s. The music conjured up images of hitting the streets, punching the air with my fist and chanting slogans about the sacred tenets of a modern democracy! But this is much more than just about the social and political issues of our 21st century. No, this is, like all great art, about the universal themes about who we are and how we survive, themes like hope, heartache, love, and power but Franti and company make these themes groove with Reggae, Hip-Hop and grungy Rock ‘n Roll all swirling together like our great American melting pot!
He kicks off his latest album, All Rebel Rockers, to drive home that very last point to an infectious Reggae-tinged groove, The Rude Boys Back in Town: “When I walked through the party it was ready to go/There were punk rockers reggae rockers all in a row/Windin and a grindin through the dj show.”
With Hey World (Remote Control Version), Franti goes right to the jugular to make sure if you’ve been napping to the social and political injustices of our insane world, then you’ve just experienced a rude awakening: “I didn’t come here to chill. I came here to rock, to smash the empire with my boom-box. You got to let go of remote control!” Oh, this is the kind of hip-hop that could create a whole revolution of enlightened youth!
And just when things seem to be getting just a little too heavy and weighing down the listener with second guesses about having bought this disc, Franti funks up the beat with a most refreshing attempt of a love song with Say Hey (I Love You) : “My momma told me don’t lose you ‘cause the best luck I had was you.”
Then there is his song of celebration, I Got Love for You, and you can feel it, as if he meant every single word for every single one of us: “It’s been a long time that I shoulda said what I tell now/That I got faith in ya/And I got hope for ya/So I’ll be waiting right here.” Here’s another song that makes you want to hit the streets but this time with a boundless feeling of hope and good vibes, like when we’re young reaching out for those wide open dreams.
Franti brings it back to one of the defining themes that have made him a unique artist committed to his message with another rendition of Hey World, this one called Don’t Give Up Version. Strangely, this song frightens and inspires all at the same time. If the urgency to remedy what we are doing to each other and our Earth isn’t central in our thoughts, then this song will give us pause to reconsider our dormant selves: “Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to know all you’ve shown me/Don’t give up on me, I won’t give up on you/Just believe in me, like I believe in you.”
As for that video that initially sent me down the path of discovery, well, here you go. Pass it on!
“A system is democratic to the degree that ordinary people have the opportunity to play a meaningful role in the formation of public policy.” Thank you, Professor Jensen.