Brun became famous on the EDM circuit, but his upcoming album ‘Lokal’ channels traditional forms like konpa and rara

In the early 2010s, during the heady days when EDM was clobbering its way into the global pop mainstream, you could have found Michael Brun holding down a set at any number of rave-centric festivals. But when he toured the U.S. in 2017, he was pedaling a very different kind of propulsion: Brun’s Bayo tour brought block-party flair and homegrown talent from his native Haiti to American listeners.

These shows were a creative reintroduction of sorts — the stony dance music that fills Anglo arenas receded, giving way to the more complicated, syncopated rhythms that can be found in the musical traditions of Haiti. These shows also served as the root of Brun’s debut album, Lokal. “[During the initial dates of the Bayo tour] I was playing a lot of afrobeats [from Nigeria], and I was also playing a lot of Haitian music,” the producer recalls. “I was like, what will bridge the gap in my set? I’m gonna make that track.”

The first of these transatlantic bridge songs is “Akwaaba Ayiti,” a motoring rework of a song by the Nigerian star Mr. Eazi, out today; Lokal will follow on the 28th. The album’s arrival coincides with a wave of new attention for Brun: He has been working with the Colombian reggaeton superstar J Balvin and also gained the support of YouTube, which picked him for its Foundry program, an initiative dedicated to elevating international independent artists. Taken together, this marks an emphatic transformation for Brun, from one-time four-on-the-floor maven to transatlantic polymath aiding the spread of Caribbean hybrids throughout the U.S. and Africa.

Brun’s metamorphosis began when he started returning to Haiti regularly to work at the Audio Institute, a non-profit that offers two years of audio education. Brun is on the board — as are Arcade Fire and Paul Oakenfold — but he found himself absorbing new musical language as if he were a student. “Working with rara bands, traditional voodoo rhythms that people would play in big street processions, and a lot of different types of Haitian artists, learning the history of the sounds, it started making a lot more sense,” he says. With familiarity came a new interest.

Between 2016 and 2018, Brun released three songs that captured his gradual immersion in the sounds of his homeland: “Wherever I Go,” “Gaya” and “Bayo.” “After three years in a row trying to mix Haitian music and international music, I was like, ‘I’ve gotta run with this,’” the producer adds. He was encouraged by the enthusiastic responses of artists from both camps — not only the Haitian singer Lakou Muzik but also the international dabbler Diplo. Continue reading

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