Hip Hop Artist Michael Franti Speaks Out on US Government Surveillance of his Band and MTV Self-Censorship

by Michael Franti, Amy Goodman, and Democracy Now!

Dissident Voice

April 4, 2003

Democracy Now! radio program, March 27, 2003
NOTE: This is a rush transcript

Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! Host: For nearly a decade hip-hop artist and activist Michael Franti has been a leading progressive voice in music. He grew out of the Bay area music and political scene of the 90’s and in 1986 he founded the drum and bass duo “The Beatniks” paving the way for his next musical endeavor “The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy”. His most recent musical project is the musical collective “Spearhead” begun in 1994 and he’s used his music to push social boundaries, speaks out against sexual violence, encourages his community to prevent the spread of HIV and has been very vocal in his opposition to war. And now it maybe the reason why the government is looking at him and his group Spearhead. Welcome to Democracy Now Michael.

Michael Franti: Hi Amy.

Amy Goodman: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about what’s been happening as you’ve been touring the country with songs like “Bomb da World.”

Michael Franti: Well we’ve been touring for the last year and a half performing that song and everywhere we go it gets standing ovations, people begin to cry. People are just very grateful to hear any voice out there right now who are speaking in support of peace and human rights.

Amy Goodman: What’s happened as you’ve been on this tour?

Michael Franti: Well, what’s happened most recently is that we performed at a rally on March 15th in San Francisco and the next day on the 16th—that, that rally was out here—and on the 16th on the East Coast, a band member of mine who prefers to go unnamed, his mother received a visit from two plain clothes men from the military and this band member of mine has a sibling who is in the Gulf. And they came in and talked to her and said you have a child who’s in the gulf and you have a child who’s in this band Spearhead who’s part of the “resistance” in their words, and they had pictures of us performing the day before at the rally, they had pictures of us performing at some of our annual concerts that we put on that are in support of peace and human rights. They had his flight records for the past several months, they had the names of everybody who works in my office, our management office “Guerilla Management”. They had his checking account records. They asked his mother a lot of questions about where he was, what he was doing in this place, why he was going here. They confiscated his sibling’s CD collection that they had brought over to listen to while they were in the Gulf, and basically were intimidating—told her which members of the press she could talk to and which members of the press she should not speak to.

And basically what this signals to me is that—I don’t feel like we’re being particularly singled out or under any investigation for any activity because all the activity that we do is very much above board and all the events where photos were taken out were all public things we were at. But what it does signal to me is that there’s a lot of us who are now making a blip on the radar, you know, whether we’re organizers at rallies, whether we’re musicians, whether we’re people who are speaking out, authors, writers, actors. And we’re beginning to make little blips on the radar. They’re starting to pay attention and collect information about what’s going on. You know , more important to me or more important than me you know, being a part of that is the fact that our civil rights are being eroded across the board for every person.

And for musicians in particular it’s a really hard time. Last week our label received a letter, a mass e-mail from MTV instructing the fact that no videos could be shown that mentioned the word bombing or war. No videos could be shown that had protesters in it. Any footage from military—they gave a list of prior videos that could not be shown, yet MTV has aired videos that show troops saying goodbye to their loved ones and going off to war in a very heroic fashion and troops which are going to be coming home traumatized, wounded and dead and then be treated and thrown onto the scrap heap of veterans, as we’ve seen veterans treated in this country. And at the Academy Awards, there were also letters and talk that went around saying not to speak out. Radio—mainstream radio, Clear Channel in particular, of course has put the word out not to air songs that are in opposition to the war and in support of peace. Meanwhile, our song “Bomb Da World” which we just put out is now in heavy rotation on a top youth radio station in Australia and in Denmark and it’s expected to get added to a lot of stations in other countries.

Amy Goodman: A few days ago, Democracy Now! Correspondent Jeremy Scahill and I were at the Ani DiFranco concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center to talk about Democracy Now and the importance of independent media in a time of war, just before she went on. And Clear Channel, which owns New Jersey Performing Arts Center, runs that venue, told her no political information could be given out and threatened—it seemed the venue threatened to close down the concert if there was any political speech.

Michael Franti: It’s incredible, it’s outrageous and I think it’s something that we all need to be aware of and need to support the art, you know, whether it’s music, whether it’s films, whether it’s dance performances or whatever, this is the last place, apart from Pacifica and a few other stations around the country, where these voices are being heard.

Amy Goodman: And Clear Channel that runs 1,200 radio stations now, runs many of the big venues in this country for musicians.

Michael Franti: So it’s important that we call these stations and demand that these voices be heard.

Amy Goodman: Well Michael Franti, I want to thank you for being with us, as we go out with your voice, with “Bomb Da World.”

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