Soul Rebel

Steffen Franz is quite the optimist. First he took the "slack" out of dancehall, now he's crusading to help heal the wounds of a country.

Something of an out-of-the-closet radical, Mike wanted to put together a group with at least one Turkish member to show "people that may still be entrenched in some of their views that people on either side are not like 'devils with horns on their heads,'" as he explains in an e-mail.

Along with Zeki Ali, a well-published poet who had never performed his work over music, Mike enlisted Franz to produce the backing tracks and lend his authenticity in the reggae market to the project.

The result, though, is less identifiably Caribbean-sounding than anything Franz has done for Positive Sound Massive, because, he says, "we decided from the outset that it had to be as universal as possible -- it had to reach the world." For this reason, the poets wrote their lyrics in English and didn't reference any specifics of the situation in Cyprus. So Olive Leaves has an amorphous trip-hop/Massive Attack vibe, and its songs are about "division in people's lives anywhere," Franz says, "because Zeki and Haji both knew full well that making a record that just talked about the problems in their small corner of the globe isn't how you get support. You get support by saying, 'I have a plight, and it's the same as yours. Your plight might be between you and your wife and you and your money; mine happens to be between me and this damn Green Line.'"

Speaking of that Green Line, Franz's life's work as go-between couldn't have been rendered in a more dramatic image than on his first trip to the island, when, he says, he recorded Ali's spoken word on the northern side of the line and then smuggled the DAT past troops armed with machine guns so he could finish the session with Mike on the other.

When Franz came back a year later, the travel restrictions had been eased, so the Poetz could finally record together. But since the two lyricists hadn't been able to rehearse as a band before making Olive Leaves, Franz had to massage the sessions a fair amount into a cohesive whole. And while there's a certain disjointed feeling to the record, which makes for a shaky step now and then, it also provides the album's brightest moments, as each artist's cultural quirks partially dissolve into one another, making for a chunky multiethnic stew.

Franz says that through the experience, he's realized what his dream job would be: "Working for the U.N., who would send me to Zimbabwe one month and Israel the next, using music as a communication tool between opposing sides. If in the end-all that's the skill I've been blessed with, to help people tell their story, then that's enough of a plate for me."

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