MICHAEL FRANTI & SPEARHEAD with STATE RADIO at the Guvernment (132 Queens Quay East), tonight (Thursday, November 2). $32.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Ask Michael Franti, barefoot mu sical activist and grassroots circuit star, about the war in Iraq and he'll tell you it's actually a success. All you have to do is see it from Bush's perspective.
"It's not a failure to them, because their reasons for going to Iraq were different from what they said," says a tranquil Franti over the phone from his tour bus as it rolls into Iowa, where he'll play his next sold-out show.
"U.S. and British foreign policy has always been to keep [Iraq] a part of our colonial empire. We've always supported leaders there who've been generous to U.S. interests, and when they haven't, we've taken them out."
Even though his first calling was music, the purveyor of politically charged funk-hop speaks on the war with matter-of-fact authority - based on experience. Consistent with his career-spanning spirit of awareness and protest, the performer travelled to Iraq this summer with a camera crew to do some primary research. There, he met with civilians and soldiers and formed bonds through performance and dialogue.
He was motivated to make the resultant DVD, the moving I Know I'm Not Alone (ANTI), by the glossy, slick-talkin' U.S. media.
"I just got tired of watching the news and feeling like I was being lied to, and I really wanted to see what life was like for everyday people there," he says.
"The carnage of war is impossible to understand until you get up close."
It's horrifying to witness the very real but rarely shown results of the Bush Jr.-instigated conflict, one founded on the pretense of a general "war on terror" as 9/11 vengeance. The military has levelled neighbourhoods, leaving children to play on piles of rubble, their families and friends enduring blast injuries, losing limbs in some cases.
And while the country's morale has completely bottomed out, the documentary finds Franti discovering the Iraqis' indomitable musical spirit. The best example comes in footage of hardcore punk band the Black Scorpions.
"They rehearse in a building with no electricity," he says. "They're in a basement, and they run a generator and have to play their broken-down amplifiers over the roar and sing over the choke of the exhaust of the generator. When they break a string, they use bits of telephone wire to replace it."
For the Scorpions, the only good thing to come from regime change in Iraq is the fact that there's less censorship of their lyrics. In the film, they describe being forced to write songs exalting Saddam before he was ousted.
In the States, Franti says Clear Channel banning his music from the 1,200 or so radio stations it owns is the strongest form of censorship he's encountered. But government intimidation of the band has been more in-your-face.
"There was a situation right after the war began in Iraq," he recounts. "One of our band members has a sister who's in the army, and his mother was visited by two U.S. Army police officers in plainclothes who asked her questions about the fact that she has a daughter in the army and a son in this band who was protesting the war.
"They knew all the names of people who worked in our management office, all the names of everyone in the band. They had his chequing account information, wanted to know if he had any cheques due and why he'd flown to Japan twice in six months.
"We were all quite scared. It was a very creepy time."