When Michael Franti followed up his ambitious, politically-charged 2006 release Yell Fire! with dancehall mass-appeal on All Rebel Rockers back in 2008, it wasn’t entirely clear if he took a palpable 180° away from his activism, or more likely, just got swept up in his Jamaican studio environs. Apparently, the former proves truer as his latest effort, The Sound of Sunshine, takes it a step further as he reunites with Sly & Robbie in Jamaica for a portion of the record, and leans heavily on the formula that produced his first big hit the last time around: catchy-as-hell reggae grooves, dancehall sit-ins, and a fat dose of the Edge’s delay-laden guitar tone.
In retrospect, Franti’s Yell Fire! project served a contradictory purpose in that what he expected to drive him toward an album of 15 angry songs, taught him about the importance of simply making people feel good with his music.
“I get scared, man,” Michael emphasizes in reminiscing about that period. “Being in Iraq especially, I mean, I hate to say it, but I couldn’t wait to leave. And I say that, because I met so many people there who were beautiful, kind, generous, and loving people, both Iraqis and Americans, who couldn’t leave. When I was just able to hop on a plane and get out of there, they were stuck in that situation. So, one of key things I learned there came from playing music on the streets for Iraqi families. A lot of times, I’d start by playing some quiet political songs and they would turn to me and say, ‘that’s really nice, but play something that makes us laugh and sing.’ It was a real lesson for me in making happy music.”