Michael Franti: Rock’s Yoga Master

Brooke Duthie

Spearhead’s front man talks with Departures.

San Francisco–based musician and activist Michael Franti, 46, spent years living the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle until about a decade ago, when he realized his body, mind and spirit couldn’t sustain it forever. So the front man for the popular folk/hip-hop/reggae band Spearhead turned to yoga. Franti—who almost exclusively has gone barefoot since 2000—just celebrated the first anniversary of Soulshine, his yoga retreat in Ubud on the Indonesian isle of Bali. He tells David Peisner what led him there.

“I started doing yoga on September 13, 2001. It was right after 9/11. I was on tour and looking for something to calm me. I had so many emotions, so much sadness, pain and worry. A fan took me to her yoga class, and I stuck with it. It keeps me in great shape, but, maybe more importantly, I deal with conflict and stress so much better. Yoga helps me stay focused and clear.

“We started building Soulshine three years ago. My girlfriend at the time, who’s still my business partner, and I wanted a place that could be our retirement home. We bought this land and started to build. Six months into it, we broke up, so we were like, ‘What are we going to do with this concrete slab in the middle of a jungle?’ It became this retreat. We wanted to create a place where people can be happy, let go of all the stuff they’ve been dealing with at work, practice yoga and just get back to being themselves—five-star luxury, but with a playful atmosphere. I met a Balinese man, Kadek Gun, who’s an incredible designer, and he oversaw all the details. It’s a mix of Balinese and contemporary architecture. We’re in the middle of rice terraces, so we designed the building to follow their curve. There are gardens and ponds everywhere.

“I’m at Soulshine for about two months a year. I write and record a bit at the retreat; one of the rooms was used as a studio when I recorded The Sound of Sunshine. I’ll play guitar for a yoga class, be out in the jungle, eat coconuts and dive into the pool afterward. I have the best job anyone could wish for.”

Soulshine is at Jalan Abarawati, Ubud, Bali; 62-85333/499-499; soulshinebali.com.