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Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jazz/Funk/Hip-Hop Activism, 1 May 2001
This review is from: Stay Human (Audio CD)
If radical, poetic activism had a soundtrack, Michael Franti would be all over the sleeve notes. He and his band Spearhead are taking on the world, one cause at a time producing music that is based on the premise of 'getting the message to the people'. This they undeniably do. At times it may not be subtle, but at least with Franti and Spearhead you get the point immediately, as their highly literate, unrelentingly rhythmic attack delivers the message and the beat with conviction. 'Stay Human' is a conceptual diatribe against the death penalty in the USA. The songs are punctuated by radio excerpts from an imaginary pirate station which detail the plight of fictional activist, 'Sister Fatima' (read Mumia Abu-Jamal), framed for a murder she didn't commit, to the backdrop of a right-wing state governor's (eerily portrayed by Woody Harrelson) re-election bid. These are all very interesting, but it is the actual songs make most of the real impact. Musically Franti is near impossible to pigeon-hole, such is the wide variation of styles which he and his band are capable of. Strictly speaking this is hip-hop, but hip-hop that is swamped with traces of reggae, jazz, old school soul and punk. Whilst 'Listener Supported' swings to the groove of horn-laden jazz, 'Rock the Nation' is pure funk based hip-hop intermingled with clever samplings. Spearhead's talents, which enable them to effortlessly transcend genres, are more than matched by Franti's vocals, which constantly tread a line between singing and rapping, leaving you never knowing what might happen next. Having said that, there are some very clear and heavy influences here, not least that of the great Jamaican Rasta. Not since perhaps Ben Harper has an artist seemed so enamoured with the late Marley as Franti does, but nevertheless he and his band undeniably offer more than a rehash of the Jamaican sound. Indeed, no other act combines the best of Compton and the best of Kingston in such a dynamic and commanding fashion as Franti and Spearhead do once in full flight. When all the elements of this complex hybrid are properly aligned, the results are body-shaking tunes, equally suitable for dancing as for politicising the 'freaky people of the planet' to whom the album is dedicated. Ugly realities and raw, earthy, feel-good music are combined so skilfully that it makes you wonder why intelligent music such as this has had to take a back seat whilst morons the world over dominate the main stream. Spearhead or figurehead, this is wonderful.
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Location: Oxford, England

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