Performing at protest rallies is nothing new for the politically minded hip-hop/soul band Spearhead. What made their March 15th anti-war concert in San Francisco different is that bombs started falling on Baghdad a few days later.
But first, on March 16th, across the country in Boston, the mother of the group's human beatbox Radioactive received a visit from two plainclothes Army officers.
"She'd spoken in an interview about her daughter who has been deployed in the Gulf, and her son who is in this band Spearhead," says Spearhead frontman Michael Franti. "They showed her a picture of her son wearing a t-shirt that said 'Unfuck the world' on the front, and 'Dethrone the Bushes' on the back. They told her that was an un-American statement. She said, 'That's free speech,' and they said, 'Well, things are changing these days.'"
The men who visited the frightened woman told her that her daughter's CDs had been confiscated, and that her son had recently taken two flights to Japan. "Why would he do that?" they asked her, according to Franti.
The men then showed her a list of names of people who worked in Franti's management office in San Francisco and a photograph of her son performing with Spearhead at the peace rally one day prior. "It kind of put a scare into all of us," says Franti. "The fact that people would be paying this close attention to what we're doing as musicians is a bit freaky. We're human rights workers -- we don't believe that people should be killed. We're not about wanting to overthrow the government, but we want to speak out. It's made us deepen our belief in what we do and work that much harder."
Spearhead recently debuted a Sly and Robbie dancehall remix version of their song "Bomb the World" on the Internet. The song, from their upcoming album Everyone Deserves Music, was written in the aftermath of September 11th and features the chorus: "You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can't bomb it into peace."
"Look at the way all of these different songs have been put out in opposition to the war: the Beasties, Lenny Kravitz, Zack de la Rocha, R.E.M.," Franti says. "Labels are afraid to put those out as singles and bring them to the radio stations out of fear for what happened to the Dixie Chicks. Now it's coming to the Internet, which is great. But it's unfortunate that we live in a time and in a country where radio is so centralized and under the control of so few voices. Our musical heroes all spoke to the times, but this time around we're not able. Not in the same way."
Franti, a longtime activist but no conspiracy theorist, is not fearful of big brother Bush putting his hand down on the artist's shoulder. Not directly, at least. "I don't think Spearhead is under an investigation, or any other artist is," Franti says, acknowledging the fear that the visit by the two officers had on Radioactive's mother. "But people who are doing human rights work are creating little blips on the radar. And they're now investigating everyone whose views are contrary to the policies of the Bush administration. Hopefully it doesn't amount to anything more than that . . . Hopefully."