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Michael Franti & Spearhead’s newest album, All People, is a mercurial mélange of influences, styles, and messages. The album takes the listener on a journey from an electro-dance DJ summit in Ibiza out to a satellite orbiting earth. It then crashes down for a midnight car ride through quite city streets and eventually ends up nestled nicely inside the dreadlocked head of Michael Franti himself. At the end of this voyage, it becomes evident that Franti and his collaborators have created an album that could quite possibly be the soundtrack to your summer.
All People begins with the title track which features Gina Rene. This is the mission statement of the album. Here Franti addresses “All People” quite literally. He calls out to Africa, the Middle East, and San Francisco, eventually rounding out with shouts out to Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, and Burning Man music festivals. He is clearly promoting a one world philosophy where the people of the world come to understand that there is no difference between one another and embrace an over-arching spirit of love.
The third song, “I’m Alive,” is in the spirit and style of French house producer Bob Sinclair. The joyous whistles and heart-pumping beat of this song echo Sinclair’s song “World Hold On” while holding true to Sinclair’s own ideology of “peace, love, and house music.”
Michael Franti has come a long way from his first band. The Beatnigs were a San Francisco industrial punk band that was signed to Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles record label. Fortunately Franti no longer drags a rotary saw against a metal bar to recreate industrial sounds on stage. He now borrows from reggae, rock, and hip-hop to create a uniquely homogeneous sound.
After the initial club bangers, the album transitions smoothly to a slower, more intimate song called “Earth From Outer Space” that features Somalian rapper K’Naan. The bedding on the track is layered with cosmic atmospherics and digital clicks that elevate the mind as Franti elaborates his one world imagery.
The album picks back up in its second half with a dubby, reggae infused hip-hop pop track, “I Don’t Wanna Go.” This song signals the transference of energy to that of optimistic fatalism. In this song Franti sings, “I’m gonna die, but it won’t be tonight, but if I did, I would live for the best ever night of my life.” This is a you-only-live-once anthem that is totally appropriate for any reckless night out, but that also caries a positive unifying message.
The rebirth displayed in the latter songs hints at a change that occurred in Michael Franti himself. As a youth in Oakland, he was angered and alienated by the world around him. When he attended college at the University of San Francisco he was taught to channel his disenfranchisement into poetry by a Jesuit priest. In his post-punk phase, he learned that he can effect the change that he wishes to see in the world. Eventually, as a pop star, he was able to influence others to take action for social justice the way he has done.
That being said, All People will take you from sun-bleached beach parties, across crowded dance floors, through late-night hangout sessions, to a higher level of social consciousness. All in all, Michael Franti’s latest release is the perfect mood modifier that will find its way into a number of your favorite playlists.