Music is the country’s number one language. Creole is what everybody speaks but music is how people live…Music is the heart, soul and language of Haiti.
Michael Brun is a doctor in the studio. The Haitian med-student turned EDM artist twines the rhythms of his homeland into the global language of dance music. A few years back, CONVICTS went to Haiti with Michael to collaboratively produce SCORE, a documentary music video. On both Lokal and in SCORE, Brun is rewriting the narratives of his homeland on a musical canvas.
Brun was raised in a deeply musical household, went to military school and medical school before realizing that he could share his blessings with rare skill via electronic music. Perhaps that’s why the Haitian-born DJ brings a healing mission to the turntables. As Brun explained to CONVICTS, “So many times, people with agendas have said or shown things about the country that became a huge source of pain. The only people really getting hurt are the youth who don’t have a chance to change their circumstances. Empowering future generations to change their own stories can change everything that they want to do.”
To this end, Brun infused his new album Lokal with traditional Haitian rhythms and patterns drawn from konpa and rara music. Lokal seems to mirror something else Michael explained to CONVICTS: that whether we know it or not, Haitian rhythms influenced the entire cannon of western music. Haitian rhythms travelled from Haiti north through New Orleans to Chicago, New York and beyond. These subtle influences are so omnipresent, we rarely register them.
Lokal’s emphasis on Haitain sounds amongst the recognizable beats of dance music, makes the album feel like the completion of some cycle–from blues to jazz to r&b to rock n’ roll to hip-hop to electronic music–as though western music has finally evolved enough to acknowledge its roots.
CONVICTS was lucky to travel to Haiti last year with Brun to produce SCORE: HAITI. SCORE is a documentary music video series. An ambitious concept that is a first and wholly unique: we find musicians who are inspired by distinct geographical locations that are close to their heart.
The CONVICTS team travels to this location and collaborates with the artist to film beautiful footage – documenting the culture, the landscape, the people and the energy of the place. Our artist composes an original piece of music expressing the spirit of the location dear to them and scores it to the CONVICTS footage, resulting in the cinematic short film we call SCORE. Along with Haitian musicians J. Perry, Mickaben and Patrick Bun, Brun composed the world-music banger “Nouvelle Generation.”
While in Haiti with Michael, we sat down with him for a brief interview to discuss Michael’s sense of home, his understanding of the Haitian spirit and the uplifting goals he has for his music. Truly, it was a pleasure and an honor to work with this rising star.
Hey, Michael. To start, can you just tell us who you are and where you’re from?
My name is Michael Brun. I’m from Port-au-Prince Haiti.
How did you find your way into music?
Music has been a huge part of my life forever. My dad had a band called Scandal and my mom played piano. So me, my brother, my sister and I all went to all kinds of music lessons: piano, guitar, violin and singing. They really valued music.
Tell us about your journey toward becoming an artist?
I was in school to be a doctor. I spent most of my life in Haiti before I went to military school in Indiana at 16. Then I went to college to be a bio major in pre-med. I always thought I was going to a doctor. I was volunteering at hospitals because it was a way for me to give back the blessings I received both from my family and all the different people I’d met. I realized it was a privilege to be in that position, to have a good education and the will to pursue any sort of dreams I had. Being a doctor was my way of helping other people. Music was always just for fun.
So when did the career path change?
I started producing music when I was 15. I became a fan of electronic music through friends and family. I realized that the sounds were really interesting and it was something that I had never heard before. Then I found out that people were making it on their computers. I’d always thought you had to make music in the studio. Making stuff on a computer seemed pretty interesting and accessible, so I started doing that. When I went to military school, I had my laptop with me so I kept making music for fun sending it to friends. When I got to college, I’d been making music for about two or three years. I put some stuff online that got picked up by some blogs and now I’m here.
Talk a little bit about life in Haiti. Impossible question, but how would you describe Haiti to people that haven’t been here before?
Haiti is, first of all, home to me. I feel most comfortable here. My connection here with family is something I can’t find anywhere else. The culture and sounds and all the elements of life that I experienced growing up rush back to my mind every time I return. Those elements are really unique and formative for the entire Western Hemisphere. Everything that’s happened in the Americas and in the Caribbean has been, in some way, affected by Haiti. To have that sort of lineage and history in a country is really powerful.
How would you describe the nation’s culture? How has it been shaped by that history?
The people of Haiti are really happy throughout every situation that comes at them. That’s what’s kept Haiti going throughout everything that the country has faced, because it’s had a really complicated history. There’s been a lot of good and there’s been a lot of bad. The fact that people can wake up every morning and just keep living, keep working, keep making beautiful things…that resilience and happiness is something I really admire.
OK, another impossible question: how would you describe the spirit of Haiti?
Whenever people come to visit Haiti, I ask them whether they feel something special here. Do they feel a kind of magic? When they come here, so many people feel like it’s different from the rest of the world. That there’s something about that the country can’t quite contain. Something that’s just always on the surface. That to me is the literal spirit of Haiti. It’s in every part of the country: from the ground to the music to the food to the people to everything. It’s there and alive and moving. Artistically, it’s a huge source of inspiration. When you’re making music, you’re channeling this energy. It’s a responsibility as an artist to do justice to that special energy. It doesn’t sound like anything else.
How important is music to the country?
Music is the country’s number one language. Creole is what everybody speaks but music is how people live. From landing on the plane, getting out into the airport, going on a drive going to the beach, or the mountains or the city…you will hear music nonstop. Music is the heart, soul and language of Haiti.
What do you hope to see Haitian music achieve?
In some ways, Haitian music has had a lot of success. In other ways, it’s so untapped. There are so many amazing artists in the country that are making music in different genres that now have the chance to reach an enormous audience–not just in the country but around the world. Language has become less and less of a barrier to music. So really, my mission as an artist is to serve as a bridge, to be a leader for these success stories that defy the negative portrayal of the country. I want people to see Haiti as an example of what happens when people do work together and find success through that.
How important is it for Haiti to reclaim its narrative?
Haiti really needs to focus on being in control of its narrative, of our narrative. So many times, people with agendas have said or shown things about the country that became a huge source of pain. The only people really getting hurt are the youth who don’t have a chance to change their circumstances. Empowering future generations to change their own stories can change everything that they want to do, whether that’s through music or not. Once you realize that your potential and your strength comes from inside, nothing anybody says can diminish that.
We’ll end on an easy one: how important is dance in Haitian culture?
With music you need dancing. Those just go hand-in-hand. It’s celebration. Music is celebration and community. Dancing is a way of connecting with the spirit of music in a really pure way.