Blast from the past: Michael Franti and the Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy

March 23, 2023
4 mins read
Start

Thirty years ago GARY STEEL sat down at an Auckland city sidewalk café to chat with Michael Franti ahead of their performance in Auckland.

U2 love ‘em to death. They rap and funk and rock and jazz in one handy multicultural travel bag. They’re the hippest hip-hop heavies. The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy, and the well-versed mouth of frontman Michael Franti is moving to the sounds and rhythms of the answers he has to my questions.

When Michael Franti’s head commands his throat to bark out the words to his songs about the issues that affect the times in which we live, it’s the voice of authority – a baritone rap that makes NWA sound like NKOTB by comparison.

But that’s not all. His lyrics don’t condone sexism or violence against women or against gays. Ain’t that peculiar!

But that’s not all. Their live show is a revelation, too. It features a) Real drums, b) a person who somehow manages to simultaneously play his cool guitar and bass lines on the same instrument, and c) a small Asian chap whose startling contributions include:

  • Boogieing on and heroically jumping off huge speaker stacks
  • Rubbing strange scrap objects on a metal grinding machine, which sends…
  • Huge arcs of sparks shooting over the audience.
Disposable Heroes supporting Iggy Pop in Auckland

Yes, it’s a show to catch before you die.

The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy toured Downunder following their dates as the special guest of U2 on their huge Zoo TV tour of America’s stadiums.

“You’re not sure people are gonna pay attention to what you’re doing, because it’s a 50,000 to 60,000 seat show,” says Franti over a frothy coffee at Auckland’s trendy Kerouac café. “But we were well received, because our show is animated, it’s a fun show.”

 

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Okay, how about a token funny U2 story?

“The first time we met them,” says Franti, “I was talking to the guitar player backstage for a while, and somebody came up to me and said, ‘uh, Michael, I don’t mean to break this to you, but his name is THE EDGE, not ED!’ I’d been calling him Ed the whole time, so I called him Ed for the rest of the tour!”

Disposable Heroes supporting Iggy Pop in Auckland

Okay, enough tittle-tattle. What I really want to know is, how did you get to suss out the world situation so well? You seem so damn educated, man. Were you a teacher’s pet at school?

“When I was at school I was a terrible student because I was disinterested in what was happening,” says Franti.

“But once I got out of school, I started to read things, things that I was interested in, as opposed to just reading what the school says.

“The other thing is that I always TALK to people. Like, when I went out and met some traditional Maori carvers, I talked about the spirituality of this Aotearoa, and learned about the culture here, learned things I can take back, to deal with coping in my world.

“One of the things we were talking about was this idea that there’s two sets of footsteps. One is like your spiritual side, your complex of growing up being a young person in a society that’s not really accepting of the needs of young people. And then there are your special footsteps, which you have to walk just in order to live in this way. You have to make sure that the footsteps are matching up each step of the way.

“I think that Western culture devalues things that aren’t academic. My first impulse is to meet with people, and hang out with friends and talk to people. My parents always said to me that’s the wrong thing to do, but I don’t think so. Other cultures learnt everything just from talking to each other, just from experiencing for themselves. Explore. Reach out, speak to new people of other cultures, generations.”

Okay, enuff already! So where does all this fit into the wonderful world of pop? The glamour, the sexuality, the sleaze?

Franti – who comes from beautiful San Francisco – has this to say about the meaning of the Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy:

“How do you say something that is going to move people in a deep way, when you’re dealing with a field that consists of a thousand videos of women’s breasts? You deal with real things in a personal way. One of my favourite artists is Bob Marley, because he was able to match the most tender love songs with hardcore political statements, to show there’s very little difference between the two.

“The question is really, ‘Do you care about people?’ And if you do, are you willing to take risks?

Details: Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy is Michael Franti (vocals, yrics) and Rono Tse (angle grinder, tyre rims, etc). Their debut album, Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury, is on Island Records. They are currently recording the backing music to an album by 78-year-old weirdo writer William Burroughs. After that, they set to work on their second album. Says Franti: “It will be more like a groove record that has deep lyrics on it. It’s just as important to move your body as improve your mind.”

Notes from 2023: I really enjoyed talking to Michael Franti. The term didn’t exist then, but these days, people would probably refer to him as “woke”. He was a friendly and voluble conversationalist with something to say, and a deep interest in First Nation peoples. My story was geared towards RTR Countdown magazine’s teenage audience, but one of these days I’ll ferret out the full transcript, for further elaboration on the subjects we discussed.

Update: Michael Franti formed the group Spearhead in 1994 and continues to release music under his own name. He is also a keen activist and advocate for peace in the Middle East, as well as founder of Do It For Love, a foundation to help children with life-threatening illnesses achieve their goals.

 

 

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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