Michael Franti: The lecture that sang

By on January 29, 2013
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American musician, poet, and social justice activist Michael Franti lectured and performed at the Alys Stephens Center, Jemison Concert Hall last week.

Michael Franti speaks to his audience about his human rights beliefs, world peace, social issues and his infamous bare feet. Clarence Barbour/Staff Photographer

Michael Franti speaks to his audience about his human rights beliefs, world peace, social issues and his infamous bare feet. Clarence Barbour/Staff Photographer

Franti’s performance was free and open to the public as part of Birmingham’s 50 Years Forward program—a campaign commemorating the 50-year anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement.

Although Franti is widely recognized as the creator and vocalist of Michael Franti & Spearhead, his work extends far past music. Franti is also an outspoken activist for human rights, world peace, and social justice issues.

Franti and production partner/guitarist Jay Bowman began the night by easing in with a few tunes before Franti began his lecture that he promised to be “better than your momma’s.”

“I hate lectures. My mom gave a lot of lectures,” said Franti.

Franti, 46, is a musician who begins his day doing headstands as a meditative practice and enters the stage without shoes.

“I’ve been barefoot for 13 years. 13 years ago, I played soccer with kids in South Africa who didn’t have shoes, so I went home and took mine off too. I decided not to wear shoes for as long as I could, and I still don’t today,” said Franti.

On Franti’s 10 year anniversary of not wearing shoes, he partnered with Soles4Souls, a shoe charity that collects shoes and donates them to those in need. At the end of Franti’s concerts, he collects his audience’s shoes for Soles4Souls.

In 2004, Franti set out on a mission to examine the human cost of war in the Middle East. One year later, he released the documentary, “I Know I’m Not Alone”, that presented Franti’s firsthand experience in active war zones.

“I became frustrated with news stations consistently reporting economical and political costs of the war but never human costs. I traveled to Iraq and Palestine and played music for children,” said Franti. “I thought the children would want to hear songs about the war being ended, but they just wanted to hear songs that made them happy.”

Franti’s work in human rights issues concurs with Birmingham’s celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, and he encourages the city to keep moving forward.

“Birmingham is famous because the hard work, tenacity, and spirit of people where, before, things were different,” said Franti. “Today, there may not be dogs and fire hoses, but we still have a long way to go before people change how they interact.”

The social activist acknowledges that external efforts don’t always equate with internal contentment.

“Today, there is the right to vote and people are eating in the same restaurant, but it still doesn’t make people happy. Happiness comes from some place within,” said Franti.

Upcoming events in Birmingham’s 50 Years Forward series include: a free lecture by hip-hop artist Common on February 25 at Bartow Arena, and Music of the Movement, a live performance from the Alabama School of Fine Arts Choral Department on February 21. at the Birmingham Public Library.

Kaylyn Alexander
Staff Writer
kaylyn@uab.edu

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