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The incredible lightness of Michael Franti's being

Singer and yoga aficionado performs free concert at Olympic Plaza as Wanderlust returns to Whistler



Wanderlust is back and so is musician Michael Franti.

Both have become harbingers of summer in Whistler — the five-day yoga, meditation and mindful-living festival and the positive, yoga-loving, humanity-embracing singer-songwriter.

Wanderlust's workshops, classes and gatherings start on Thursday, July 30, and run until Monday, Aug. 3.

Franti and his band Spearhead perform at a free public outdoor concert at Whistler Olympic Plaza on Saturday, Aug. 1.

Currently in the middle of a Canadian tour, Franti performed at the Squaw Valley Wanderlust in California earlier in the month.

His long connection to Wanderlust comes from his interest in yoga, which started 14 years ago.

"It really changed my life. I walked into my first yoga class on Sept. 12, 2001, the day after the attack on Sept. 11. I was feeling so much stress, there was so much fear and craziness taking place in the world," Franti recalls.

"I walked into this class and left it feeling lighter. I had more clarity in my mind and felt closer to the emotions that I was able to let go of."

After this, he would go to daily classes wherever he was on tour and its influence led to a new commitment to nonviolence, to how he took care of himself and others, and he attributed to it to his longevity in music.

"And, more importantly, it connects me to these people (at Wanderlust) who are thinking all the time of ways to improve the lives of others and relieve suffering on the planet," he says.

Franti's new single "Once a Day" came out earlier this year, with its accompanying album due to drop in 2016.

"The song is about unexpected moments in life. Sometimes there are beautiful, unexpected moments and sometimes we have ones that are very challenging," Franti says.

"Once a Day" is a meditation for Franti on a difficult chapter in his life and on his family.

In 2014, his 16-year-old son Ade was diagnosed with a rare kidney disorder focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), which can cause scarring in the cells that filter blood and can lead to kidney failure.

"By the time we found out he had already lost 50 per cent of his kidney function. We thought it would be something that could rip our family apart, because it tore our hearts open, but we came together to fight the disease and make sure his life is as normal as possible," Franti says.

"There were more hugs, more kisses, more I-love-yous and pretty soon we found that our family was actually closer together, having gone through this challenging time.

"The song is a gentle reminder to hug those people we love on a daily basis, and that closeness is what got us through the challenges."

Ade is doing "way better than we'd ever imagined," Franti adds.

That so much of his music is about the joy of living and rawness of emotion has meant that the new single fits into his musical catalogue well. He says he considers how every single song he writes can have an impact.

"I make music because I care about people. That is always why I make a song; I want them to help people find a way to express their laughter and their joy and also as a place to find a voice for their sadness," Franti says.

"Ultimately, I make music because I want to bring people closer together. When we get together around ideas and beliefs we inspire each other. I want to inspire people to become difference-makers in the world."

In 2005, Franti and Spearhead performed in the notorious Folsom State Prison in California, the first musicians to play there since Johnny Cash in 1968.

"That was a really amazing day. The warden was really into the idea, but we had to send him a list of the songs we wanted to perform," Franti says.

"They said, 'You can perform this one and not this one." I had never been through anything like that before and I was offended, frankly. I thought this is America and I can say what I want.

"Then I sat back and thought it was such a little problem compared to what somebody is going through if they're in prison for a long stretch of time."

That there are so few opportunities in prison culture for a positive outlook led Franti to agree to play.

"The warden thanked us, the prisoners thanked us, even the guards thanked us, and after that we were invited to play at San Quentin and another state prison," he says.

He sees the recent interest in prison reform in the U.S. as a human rights issue in line with gay marriage rights and marijuana legalization. He says that significant shifts are more than possible.

"That's why it is important for us to not let go of our visions when we are seeking equality or betterment for our environment, for our planet," Franti says.

"All these things seem insurmountable but I am certain that within our lifetime, for example, we will see 100 per cent renewable energy."

Other performers coming to Wanderlust Whistler include DJs Urn of Vancouver, Serious Black of Montreal, Drez of Los Angeles, and San Francisco's MC Yogi.

The High and Mighty Brass Band, Nahko & Medicine for the People and Karsh Kale also perform.

For more information on Wanderlust Whistler and when and where to see performers, visit www.wanderlust.com/festivals/whistler.


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