After two decades of speaking out -- starting with his hip-hop group Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy on up to "All Rebel Rockers," the new album due next month by his beloved rock/reggae band Spearhead -- Michael Franti knows a thing or two about rock's role in politics. He spoke to us by phone from England amid a string of festival dates last week.
Q What do you hope to achieve by coming here during the Republican convention?
A I'm an independent, not registered as either a Democrat or Republican. I've played at both the last two Republican and Democratic conventions. I'm coming to the one in [St.Paul] to join the voices that are saying one very simple thing, which is we want our troops and our tax dollars to come home as quickly as possible.
Q What about the Republican convention in particular attracted you, vs. the Democratic or any kind of public rally?
A The way that our system works in America, it's impossible to get anything done without some form of consensus. We're not going to bring an end to the war in Iraq or send the energy problems we face today without both sides of the aisle coming to some shared solutions. That's why I'll be there. I won't be there to make an angry protest or to tell Republicans you're wrong and I'm right.
I've been to Baghdad. I've played music on the street for Iraqi citizens and I've performed for U.S. soldiers there. I've traveled around and I've seen the futility and despair there, and I've seen the frustration and pain in the eyes of our U.S. men and women there. I'm there not to just play music for people on the street who feel the same way I do. I want to share my music with Republicans, Democrats, black, white, anyone who wants to hear what I have to say.
Q Iraq is your No. 1 issue, but it hasn't really been the No. 1 issue in the campaign. How do you feel about the way it has or hasn't been addressed?
A What's happened most recently has been the price of gas has gone up. It's made everybody feel the pinch in their wallets. So that's been the focus of the election, finding an energy policy that works for the future. That's why we're in Iraq, though.
If it was really about us liberating people from the tyranny of governments, why didn't we take over Saudi Arabia, which was home to 11 of the 19 attackers on Sept. 11? It's all about having our outposts in the Middle East for the oil. It's all related to oil, and at the same time the oil that we're burning is ruining the climate.
My voice, I hope, is most specifically about supporting the men and women who are over there in Iraq. I've seen them and I've met them and they've come to my shows and I visited Walter Reed [Army] Hospital. My voice is also in support of ending the violence that Iraqi people have suffered, which was supposedly why were there. I want to see that happen.
Q You've been a musical activist for 20 years now. In 2008, do you think musicians are making a difference in the political world?
A We're kind of in a 2.0 phase. We had Politics 1.0, which was people taking it to the streets during the conventions and getting into conflicts with the police and whatnot, or the cops getting into conflict with the people. The message was kind of diluted in those cases. My intention in 2008 is to be there in a different way, to build a consensus for bringing our troops home.
Music's role, hopefully, is to provide inspiration and bring people together and maybe spark different conversations. But mainly it's about inspiration. Some days I wake up and read the newspaper, and I'm like, 'Man, this world has gone to hell.' But then I'll put on a Curtis Mayfield song or a Bob Marley song or even a Rage Against the Machine song -- which helps me get my anger out -- and I'll be ready to face the day again.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658