The music of Michael Franti can be characterized as the title of his 2010 album and title track, “The Sound of Sunshine.”
Take a listen to his joyful songs such as “Do It For Love,” “Say Hey (I Love You),” “Work Hard and Be Nice” and “Follow Your Heart” and you’ll feel the positivity radiating out of your speakers or headphones.
It’s no surprise Franti has been on the radar of the Joshua Tree yoga and spirituality festival Bhakti Fest since it started in 2009. He will perform during the 2023 edition of the event Sept. 15-17 at the Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground.
During a recent interview, Franti apologized that it look so long to appear at Bhakti Fest but was “excited” because it combined music with spirituality, body movement and methods of healing, which he’s personally experienced as a yoga practitioner. He went to his first yoga class on Sept. 12. 2001, the day after 3,000 people were killed in the deadliest act of terrorism on American soil, ailing from a combination of anxiety and pain from playing sports and travelling constantly.
“I felt really stressed out and scared about what was happening in the world and had a stiff body,” Franti said. “I walked out of there a little better and had a new mindset, started working with my body, learning how things showing up in my body are connected to emotions and things I’ve experienced in my life and wanting to heal. That inspired me to stay on the mat every day. When I’d travel, I’d look up where there was a yoga class in town. I learned a ton from teachers of different lineages of yoga and it became a centerpiece of my life.”
But Franti was candid about settling into a daily yoga routine and said “change is hard.”
“When I make it a practice of doing it everyday, it gets easier,” Franti said. “I’m also a bike rider and it’s the same thing. There are days I don’t feel like getting on my bike, but as soon as I get on and feel the movement and the air, I’m able to do it.”
His early music was political
During the ’80s and ’90s, Franti was performing music with a sharp political edge. While he was attending the University of San Francisco, he formed the hardcore punk and hip-hop band The Beatnigs in 1986 with percussionist Rono Tse. The Beatnigs would later evolve into the more hip-hop and poetic project The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, which also featured Tse with jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter and other collaborators.
Although The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy released two albums and toured with U2, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Franti dissolved the project to form Spearhead in 1994, which featured funk, soul and reggae music with political lyrics. His 1994 song “Crime To Be Broke In America” referenced poverty and incarceration in the Black community.
The 1997 song “Chocolate Supa Highway” referenced the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing as Franti raps, “Yes I remember the time in Oklahoma, you tried to blame an Arab but the whitey was the bomber, you be jumpin’ to conclusions, I think you spent your whole life watchin’ cable in seclusion.”
Now, at 57, Franti’s approach to music for nearly two decades has been to “inspire change in people so they can inspire change in others.” In 2019, he recorded the song “Stay Human 2,” a sequel to his 2001 tune, and the ruminative Franti sings, “The past will not define me and the future can’t defeat me.”
“When I first started, I thought it was all about calling out all the unseen problems in the world,” Franti said. “Over the years, I realized I wanted to be on the side of solutions and not just on the side of pointing the finger of what’s wrong. I realized the best way to address solutions is to look inside myself and see how I am showing up each day, not only for the world, but for the people I love.”
Even though his music is filled with optimism, Franti feels the definition of the word is misconstrued and people “confuse optimism with just being naive.”
“If you say today, ‘I’m going to have a great day,’ then you’re naive about the fact there’s so much hurt, pain and hatred in the world going on each day. But optimism is different than that,” Franti said. “Optimism is when you say ‘I know today is going to be hard, I know there’s pain in the world, I can see it and I’m working on the side of trying to make it better.'”
But there are moments he encounters fans of his early material who tell him “I like the music you did when you first started and now you’ve changed.” He admits his early musical experiences were connected to rebellion, but said it’s important families can come to his concerts and he can “express the full spectrum of emotion in my life.”
“That (old) music is still there for you and doesn’t go away,” Franti said. “It’s important for me that families can come to our shows. I believe music should be there for people throughout their whole life. A person should be able to go to a concert when they’re 13, 23 and 73.”
He owns a yoga resort in Bali
The last time Franti performed in the area was at the 2009 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. He also performed in 2003 and a clip of the performance and an interview was included in the 2006 documentary showcasing the early years of the event among performers such as Radiohead, The White Stripes, Beck and more.
When asked about the difference of performing a show at a setting like Bhakti Fest compared to Coachella, Franti discussed a recent experiences playing at the Cook County Correctional Facility in Chicago then on a beach in San Diego.
“Whenever we play, I look out into the audience, see people walk in and they’re carrying whatever is happening in their lives. I can see it, especially after we just came out of the pandemic,” Franti said. “Once the beat starts, they start to move a little and dance. They start to sing along, smile, laugh, cry, hug a stranger and walk out a little bit taller.”
When Franti isn’t at his home in San Francisco, he’s in Bali, where he owns the yoga resort Soulshine Bali, which is also hosting a November retreat by Bhakti Fest. The 33-room resort features amenities such as three yoga studios, massage therapy, healthy food, a pool club and a music venue.
“It’s everything I love but didn’t know how to apply in the real world. I love hospitality, taking care of people, having people in my house for dinner,” Franti said. “Combining the wellness and music together and making it a place that’s about fun, I feel like that’s been missing in the wellness space. Wellness isn’t just ‘Am I fitting into my jeans?’ Wellness is about ‘Am I happy? Is my life fulfilling to me?”
What advice does Franti offer during these difficult times? He said the most important thing is to “be your authentic self.”
“There’s so much pressure in the world today on social media to look or act a certain way, think a certain way about the world and if you’re different in any way, you’re blasted by critics, trolls and mean-spirited people,” Franti said. “I was raised in a family of five kids and two of us were adopted. We were all different sizes, shapes, colors and sexualities. My mom was insistent that all of us kids be ourselves and sometimes it’s painful and hurts to be who you are, but at the end of the day, when you are the way that you are, you become an example for other people.”
If you go
What: Bhakti Fest
When: Sept. 15-17
Where: Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground, 2601 Sunfair Road, Joshua Tree
How Much: $300 for a general admission pass, single day passes and other packages also available
Brian Blueskye covers arts and entertainment for the Desert Sun. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @bblueskye.