An Interview with Michael Franti, Part 1

As promised, this week we’re launching Adventure Logue with a sit-down interview with musician, activist, and bona fide adventure traveler, Michael Franti. The San Fran musician has been making socially conscious and politically charged music for years with groups like the Beatnigs, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and most recently, Spearhead. In 2004, he traveled to Baghdad and the Palestinian Territories with an acoustic guitar and a camera to try and capture, as he puts it: “The Human Cost of War.” The result of that trip is a new CD, “Yell Fire” and a documentary, “I Know I’m Not Alone,” both of which came out at the end of July.

I sat down with Franti during sound check before a show in Park City last Thursday. This is part one of that interview about Franti’s trip, the movie and the music that it inspired. Right-Click here to download the mp3. Or, read on for the transcript:

AdventureLogue: What was the impetus for your trip the Middle East in (2004)?
Michael Franti:
I had grown tired of listening to generals and politicians talk about the political costs and the economic cost of war without every mentioning the human cost of war. And I wanted to see with my own eyes, exactly what everyday life was like for people in the street. So , I picked up my acoustic guitar and my videocamera and flew to Baghdad and played music for people and then I turned the camera on and said: ‘Please tell me about your life here.’

AL: When you had the idea to film this, what were you hoping to accomplish, what reaction were you hoping for?
MF: I didn’t have any reaction in mind, but the main thing I wanted to see is, you know, we’re dropping more TNT than we dropped in WW1, WW2, Vietnam and Korea combined in this war. It’s gotta be hitting somebody. It’s gotta be affecting life in some way. They kept telling us on the news: ‘Oh, these are smart bombs, they only go in to buildings that are empty, they only blow up strategic military sites’ and I kept thinking ‘I know this cannot be true.’ And when I got there I saw that in fact it isn’t true. We’re blowing up whole neighborhoods, whole communities, and in some cases, like in the case of Fallujah, the whole town. Killing tens of thousands, upwards of 100,000 people have died.What I found was that not only are people suffering under the initial blast but also today people have no access to water, electricity, health care, education or any type of power – access to gasoline is very limited.

AL: Were you surprised at all by what you saw?
Well everyone knows war is bad, but you have no idea what its like until you see it up close, and when I went to visit kids in hospitals who had suffered blast injuries, you see face to face – this is what a bomb does to a 9 year old kid’s legs. You see stumps, or you see what depleted uranium weapons do to kids. After the first gulf war, there was so much depleted Uranium dropped that now the increase of cancer amongst children is 400 %. So you see these kids that had horrible deformities suffering from cancer. Then I’d spend time with US soldiers and be thinking to my self ‘my god, these are the guys that may have done this to these people, how can I sing for them?’ But then I’d sit down with them and realize these are just 19, 20 year old kids that kid have been in the front row of my show. In fact just a few nights ago there were a few marines that had just returned from Iraq that were in the front frow of my show. You realize that they’re there for a reason that’s been proved to be a falsehood, and they just want to go home.

AL: Did the time you spent over there change any of your pre-conceived notions? What surprised you?
The thing that surprised me the most was that I had thought that from the reports you see in the news that the war was basically over and that there were peacekeeping forces and a couple arrests in the street. But in fact that is completely false. What’s happened is that once it was clear that the Iraqi army had lost the conventional war, they sent all their soldiers home and began fighting this underground resistance that is happening today. And the news is presented to us as there’s a handleful of insurgents or some foreign fighters that have come in, or it’s Al-Qaeda or something like that. But, what it is, is they want the occupation to end in the same way that America came up against the Viet Cong in Vietnam, we’ve come up against this resistance that everyday is launching attacks on the US Army and Iraqi Military Forces and police who were supposedly over there training to take over the country, because they’re viewed as collusionists, they not viewed as our new friends, they’re viewed as people who are colluded with the US Army to continue this occupation and oppression.

AL: So it was worse than you were expecting?
It was much worse than I imagined.

Part 2 of Michael Franti Interview