"How do we holdonto the dignity of our spirit in a world that seems to be set on crushing it?"
This is a quote from Michael Franti, leader of the band Spearhead, an outspoken grassroots activist and a general person of integrity. He's describing the underlying theme behind Spearhead's new album, Stay Human (on Spearhead's own label, Boo Boo Wax), but it reads more like the age-old question of humanity--which makes sense, considering Spearhead's past and ideologies. Contrary to the current assumption that art should merely entertain, in its seven-year existence, Spearhead has always held by art's original purpose--to challenge, to connect, to "hold onto a dignity of spirit." On their current album, Franti alternately raps and sings about themes that are political, and yet intrinsic to his personality, including free speech, the abolition of the death penalty, and anti-globalization, among others.
Which is not to say they don't entertain. Stay Human has a fabulous, sexy, late-'70s R&B groove--the name "Marvin Gaye" comes to mind more than once. Its subtly funky bass evokes a feeling of humidity, with Franti's deep, commanding, mature voice singing of love: "Every box got a right to be booming/ Cause these streets are alive All the freaky people make the beauty of the world." A chorus of ladies (including Zap Mama and original Spearhead member Mary Harris) sing back-up soulfully. The overall feeling of Stay Human is less overtly funk-influenced than Spearhead's previous records, and more about a good groove deep within your heart.
The feel-good effect on Stay Human compliments its message. It clarifies that these are not merely the concerns of activists and radicals. The vibe of love (I know it sounds cheesy, but that's what the vibe is) reinforces the fact that being concerned about the sorts of issues Spearhead is talking about is to stand up for your neighbors, your brothers and sisters. It's to believe in human rights, that there's still good and beauty out there. On "Listener Supported," Franti sings with a deep Rasta feel, "Live and direct we come and never pre-recorded/ with information that would never be reported/ disregard the mainstream media distorted." It's a strong message, made stronger by the inviting beats. Once again, to paraphrase Emma Goldman, there will be no revolution unless there is dancing. Spearhead will make you move.