By Vania Andre
PORT-AU-PRINCE – Michael “Mikaben” Benjamin is no stranger to the Haitian Music Industry (HMI). With over 15 years in the music industry, Benjamin has shown a particular sensitivity for his country that’s reflected in his songs like Ayite Se.
His latest album, MKBN, however expands on his signature sound and fuses a variety of musical genres to contribute to a refreshing alternative to some of the more traditional Konpa direk artists that have dominated the HMI for decades.
“There aren’t a lot of artists, who can do all of those different genres, and excel in them,” Benjamin said at his listening party on April 20 at New York City’s Row Lounge. “Is there any other Haitian artist that does that? I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but I’ve never seen or heard it.”
MKBN features 18 tracks, the majority of which he’s written and produced, and includes collaborations with Admiral-T, Elephant Man and Kevin Lyttle, Easy Kennenga, Princess Eud, BelO, J-Perry, Paul Beaubrun and Richard Cavé to name a few. The album was slated to be released on two separate occasions before, however an unexpected contract with Warner Music France pushed back the release a year.
“I’m like a sponge,” he said. “I absorb other influences and reproduce it with my own twist. When you evaluate the work that I put in, it’s pretty amazing.”
The first single on the album, Upside Down, is an upbeat tempo song that blends konpa and R&B and is sung mostly in English, which Benjamin is confident will crossover to those outside of the Haitian community, or Diaspora members who do not understand Kreyol.
For Benjamin, who is a musical trifecta that can sing, compose and produce, it’s important to stay up to date and create music that’s in tune with the sound of the times.
Upside Down is a “strategic song,” he said. “Although people will dance to it as a Konpa song, the sound and the texture” of the song has a “Drake-ish and modern Kizomba” sound. “DJs, even those who don’t play Konpa, will love this song because the sound is clubbish.
“It was a very exhaustive but fun process” he said, “and took me awhile because many of the songs in the album have been around for a long time, I just never released them.”
While some of the songs had been written years before, Benjamin feels it’s the right time to share these more personal tracks with his fans so they can get a glimpse into his life. For example, Pouki Se Li is a song he wrote after a friend of his died from leukemia more than 10 years ago.
MKBN releases May 1 and will be available on iTunes and Google Play.
Missed the private listening party? See pictures here