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Q #x0026;; A Franti inspired musically, visually by close-up look at war

By Sandy Cohen

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Musician Michael Franti knew something was missing from the war coverage he saw on the nightly news.

The numbers reminded him of football scores: two car bombs, seven killed, 12 wounded. They were too simple, he thought, to convey the real human cost of the conflicts.

So Franti, 40, traveled to Iraq and Israel to see for himself. He spent a month exploring Baghdad and Gaza, meeting the locals, chatting with soldiers and jamming with musicians. He wrote a slew of songs, 14 of which are included on his new album "Yellfire."

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But the experience inspired Franti beyond his usual medium of music. The singer-guitarist also expressed himself visually, directing, shooting and starring in a documentary film called "I Know I'm Not Alone." Both the album and film were released over the summer.

Franti, on an international tour with his band Spearhead, took time out to talk about his trip to the Middle East and music's power to unify.

What were you looking for on this trip?

I remember the devastation visiting ground zero after Sept. 11 in New York. I remember standing there in front of these smoldering buildings and crying and being there with all these other people. And I just thought, when we go off to a nation to do air raids and bombings, what happens to the people who are there? I wanted to go there and see exactly what life was like on the ground for people.

Did you go with the intention of making this film?

At first I thought I'd just post the video that I have on our Web site and just put it up there. But after we got back, we had so much footage that it became clear that we needed to make a longer style piece. Images, they do more than political arguments ever could. They really make us feel empathy for other people in these situations and it helps us to get to the point where we say, "Maybe there's another way that we can go about this." Not only with the situation in Iraq or Israel and Palestine, but future wars to come.

Do you find that film and music deliver your message differently?

I always say I don't know if music can change the world overnight but I know music can help us make it through a difficult night. Sometimes that's what we need when we feel frustrated is just to make it into tomorrow. Film can work in an even more powerful way. Through film we can express ideas and show images that don't necessarily change minds, but that open minds.

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What was the worst part of the trip?

I guess the most difficult part for me was that it just seems like I don't have any clearer answer about where these conflicts will end than when I went there. In the Iraqi situation, it could be benefited by an international body of support with nations willing to go there to help with the human crisis that exists there, getting people back on their feet with electricity and food and water and basic essentials. That could spread a lot of goodwill there and we're in desperate need of that right now. I'm not an idealist. I don't believe that the world is ever going to live in peace and love all the time. But I know that we can live in a world where we kill each other a lot less of the time, and it's to that that I dedicate all of my work.

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