In an exclusive interview with The Haitian Times, Michaël Brun talks about his journey toward bringing Haitian and Caribbean culture to the world and how his Bayo diaspora festival is part of that mission.
MIAMI — Fresh from winning a Trace Award in Rwanda for best DJ, garnering millions of streams for his latest single, “Jessica,” and drawing new fans with the release of his album “Fami Summer,” Michaël Brun stepped onto the stage at the Little Haiti Cultural Center to close out his 2023 tour of Bayo last month. Much like he has captured the attention of the Haitians across the globe and other diaspora, Brun captivated the Saturday night crowd right off with his beats, and a message.
“Bayo means ‘to give,” Brun said into the mic to a sold-out crowd on Oct. 28. “It means we’re sharing Haitian culture, Caribbean culture [and] diaspora culture with the world. And we have so much to give tonight.”
That message, which Brun has been spreading for months, coupled with the block party drew fans of all generations, from cities near and far, to the cradle of Haitian culture in Miami. One fan drove more than 3 hours from Tampa to get her first taste of Brun’s self-proclaimed “biggest diaspora festival.”
“Bayo is an amazing party – a great way to celebrate culture,” reveler Aisha Saint-Lot said. “I flew in for this, and I love being here.”
Clearly, Brun’s diligence and musical influence is paying off. Yet, the 31-year-old musician said, he is only getting started with the next phase of elevating his cultures and communities through his industry. So far, the key to his success is Brun’s recipe of joining forces with multicultural artists in the studio and on stage. Brun said melding cultures will remain a vital part of the master plan to share Haitian and Caribbean culture with the world, as he is doing with the Bayo tour.
In an exclusive with The Haitian Times, Brun spoke about his aspirations for Haitian music on the world stage. He shared how he grew up engulfed in his parents’ eclectic taste in music, went from military school to pre-medicine studies before pivoting to music and his mission to make Bayo the biggest diaspora festival in the world.
“The same way Haiti was central in the revolution of so many countries, is the same way that I think with Bayo,” Brun said. “We all have this connective tissue in our sounds.”
Laying down the tracks for a career
Growing up in Port-au-Prince, Brun — the eldest of three — remembers the home he shared with his siblings and parents as one that was filled with tunes from a variety of music genres. His mom, Sharon, who is Guyanese, most enjoyed playing classic rock, disco and modern pop songs. His father, Patrick, a member of the 1980s konpa band Skandal, gravitated to electronica and konpa.
“It makes sense why I’m a DJ because I listened to all of these at the same time; and as a DJ, you’re blending vibes, you’re blending ideas, so it was natural.”
However, despite being immersed in music throughout his childhood — even taking piano, guitar and singing lessons, Brun said he always had aspirations of becoming a pediatrician. That goal led him toward a pre-med program at Davidson College in North Carolina, which he would ultimately leave to double down on honing his talents.
While this wasn’t the easiest decision for Brun, the immense support he received from not only his parents, but his biology professor and pre-med advisor, Dr. Malcolm Campbell, gave him the confidence to embark on a new, and international, journey.
“Young people sometimes need ‘permission’ from authority figures to pursue their dreams when a more traditional path forward is the ‘right’ path to choose,” Dr. Campbell told The Haitian Times. “He was about 19 years old and about to turn down becoming a doctor. That’s a scary leap of faith.
It turns out, the backing of Dr. Campbell, his parents and his musical inclination is the only “permission” Brun needed to turn his part-time hobby into his full-time profession.
“That changed my life,” Brun said.
As he grew into a teen and went to school in the U.S. where he attended military school in Indiana, Brun began experimenting with blending sounds he’d heard. Brun began to DJ, adding his own eclectic spin on popular songs as a hobby and posting them online.
Borrowing from his early music lessons and the unique ear he acquired from his parents, Brun experimented with blending sounds and began DJing, adding his own eccentric spin on popular songs.
This is how he discovered that he could create his own music.
“The first time I really understood that I could create my own stuff was as a DJ, [when] I made mash ups,” Brun recounted. “I would take the vocal of one song and the beat of another song and put it together. And I grew from there.”
By 2014, Brun had formed his own label, Kid Coconut. His music would soon leave the turntable and travel to the ears of a digital audience — creating viral moments and attracting viewers across the globe. In time, his talent ushered him into being a Latin Grammy award winner for his collaboration with Colombian singer J. Balvin on “Positivo.”
The accolades continued with the latest being the Trace Awards win in October for Best DJ.
Brun’s trove of wins and collaborations proceeds to multiply behind the scenes and on stage. And, in the direction of unifying Haitian and Caribbean culture, and delivering the diasporas to the world by way of music.
Working with the likes of widely acclaimed musicians – including Trinidadian soca group Kes, Scottish DJ Calvin Harris, Guyanese-American rapper SAINt Jhn, American singer Victoria Monet and Nigerian singer JoeBoy – is all part of Brun’s universal plan.
“I feel like a reggaeton artist actually flows really well with konpa…and the same for an Afrobeats artist,” Brun said. “The goal is to keep making those links happen so that the world feels a little bit smaller in the process.”
Brun’s intentional links is one that he takes with great responsibility. The way Afrobeats, amapiano, reggaeton and dancehall have made their way into the mainstream is how Brun envisions bringing undervalued Caribbean artists to the forefront — springing Haitian and Caribbean culture to the world.
Putting the culture front and center
Brun’s diverse list of on-stage collaborations also continues with Bayo as he works to make it into the biggest diaspora festival worldwide. The show, conceived in Haiti, has evolved into a broader mission that Brun proclaimed to the world via X in July.
‘I’m going to be the biggest producer/DJ in the world. And I’ll be promoting Haiti and the Caribbean throughout the whole journey,’ he confidently declared to his followers.
Around the same time, Brun released “Jessica,” the title track of his “Fami Summer” album that grew legs of its own. The song became a summer anthem for people named Jessica, those who were in love with a “Jessica” and others who enjoyed singing along to the rhythmic tune. To keep the beat going, Brun released the “island remix” of “Jessica” in October and collaborated with Trinidadian recording artist, Machel Montano, who sprinkled his soca spice to the already popular track.
Now, as the world becomes increasingly familiar with Brun, his music and strategic alliances, he promises to bring others with him as he does on the multi-city tour. Based in Brooklyn, Brun has traveled around the U.S. for sold-out shows in Washington, D.C., New York and Miami that brought out tens of thousands, according to Brun. A key feature of each show is introducing surprise guest acts: Maxwell, Major Lazor, Baky, Wyclef Jean and Masego have all appeared on the Bayo stage.
Along with the nostalgia that a sip of fresco brings and the smell of fritay moving through the air, anticipation is a key ingredient Bayo fans feed off of as they are oblivious to who will hit the stage as their performer.
“I love surprises, and whenever the stars align and the right people show up for the shows, it feels like it’s meant to be,” Brun said. “It’s not like a transaction. It’s people wanting to be there, at the right time, right place. I think that’s what makes the show so unique.”
With a focus on unifying Caribbean cultures, Bayo offers the communal experience by closing out with a block party that pulls attendees waving Trinidadian and Jamaican flags right alongside those with Haiti’s red-and-blue, a visible reminder of the nations’ connection.
The vibe works for fans, like Saint-Lot, and tastemakers alike.
For Carel Pedre, the Haitian influencer, Bayo represents more than an event.
“It’s an experience. No lineup announcement, yet it’s always sold out,” Pedre tweeted “This is a testament to the power of brand trust, a unique atmosphere and a strong community.”
Asked on the night before the Miami show how he views such fanfare, Brun emphasized his gratitude to fans, family, friends and others for the support that led to the accolades. He reiterated that his long-term goal isn’t about him.
“Ultimately, I’m doing this because I want to see the whole community win,” Brun said. “I’ve already won in my mind. I don’t need to win more just for myself. I want everyone to win.”