You never know who might be sitting next to you in a Brooklyn cafe.

For years, leading Haitian music producer and DJ Michaël Brun—who has collaborations with J Balvin, Mr Eazi, Arcane Fire and more—has quietly frequented the Bushwick Haitian cafe and event space Cafe Erzulie “hundreds of times.”

Last Thursday, he finally stepped into the limelight to host his 30th birthday party at the Bushwick institution. There, Brun jumped on the decks to spin some tunes for friends and family, and to highlight his BAYO artist showcase, which is bringing Haitian music to the masses.

Owner of Cafe Erzulie Mark Luxama (center). Photo: Jonathan Mora for BK Reader

Cafe Erzulie founder Mark Luxama, who is also Haitian, said he had known about Brun’s music for a long time, but didn’t realize he lived in Brooklyn or was a regular at Erzulie.

It felt like a full circle moment, he said, after meeting Brun for the first time at his birthday event, which served up steaming plates of Haitian street food—pork griot, bannann peze (fried green plantains) and spinach and chicken pâtés, and Haitian Barbancourt rum cocktails.

“It feels great, Luxama said. “As a fellow Haitian I think it’s nice to support each other, and that he’s supporting us. I think there’s a lot of overlap between what he does and what we do, I can see a world where we collaborate in the future, and that would be awesome.

J Balvin and Brun at Brun’s BAYO event on May 21 at Pier 17. Photo: Supplied

“He might be a little too big for us, but we’ll see,” Luxama laughed.

Over the past 10 years, Brun has been building his profile as a Haitian hitmaker, go-to DJ for the world’s biggest festivals, and one of the most in-demand producers for some of the world’s most popular recording artists.

In 2018, Brun released the track Positivo with Colombian megastar J Balvin, a track that went on to be selected as the 2018 FIFA World Cup anthem. In 2020, he won a Latin Grammy with Balvin, Mr Eazi and others for the album Colores.

The song with Balvin—which Brun produced with traditional Haitian instruments—was one of the most impactful moments for his career so far, he told BK Reader in an interview before his birthday party (and dinner at another Brooklyn spot he recommended: BARBALU).

“It was a global moment for the sound I grew up with… It meant a lot to me, personally.”

Michaël Brun. Photo: Jonathan Mora for BK Reader

Over the past decade, Brun has postured himself not only as an artist, but also as an ambassador for Haiti, with a goal to rewrite the perceptions—and misconceptions—of his homeland.

Brun was born and raised in Port-au-Prince. His father was in the band Skandal in the 90s, and Brun grew up playing instruments.

As a teen, he discovered the world of electronic music online—Haiti didn’t have much of an electronic music scene—and Brun started producing his own beats alongside a vibrant Internet community just beginning to connect through music file sharing platforms.

“It’s so funny, Limewire and Kazaa and that whole era of internet music discovery, it really felt like the Wild West—you just hoped it wasn’t a virus you were downloading,” Brun laughed.

Cocktails at Cafe Erzulie. Photo: Jonathan Mora for BK Reader

“At the same time the kind of people who used those platforms were real enthusiasts, despite how risky it was, they just loved music.”

Originally, Brun planned to be a pediatrician. He attended a military high school in Indiana on a scholarship and then college, as a pre-med student. But the music industry had already started knocking at his door.

Brun played his first music festival at age 19, to 10,000 people, then made the decision to drop out of med school. He started playing major events like Coachella and Electric Daisy Carnival, and was the first Haitian DJ to play the Ultra electronic music festival in Miami.

Photo: Jonathan Mora for BK Reader

Despite being a self-described “school drop-out,” Brun said he always had a plan, and brought the discipline he was bringing to medicine, to music.

“I thought, what was the core part of why I was interested in medicine? And to me it was human connection and creating as much positive change as I possibly could with a platform. With medicine, it’s on a daily basis with patients, with music it’s on a large scale.

“As an artist, when you get more successful you have more of a platform to make change and money to put towards things. That felt like such a  big purpose for me.”

Photo: Jonathan Mora for BK Reader

One way Brun has found himself using his platform to make the world a better place is through his BAYO events.

This year, BAYO feature a hand-picked line-up of Haitian and Afro-Caribbean acts, and has evolved from a small “passion project” in Haiti in 2016, to an all-ages party of 3,000 people at Manhattan’s Pier 17 this past Saturday.

Bayo means “to give” in Haitian Creole, and Brun says the reaction he’s had to the events in Brooklyn, including one at Music Hall of Williamsburg, have been deeply impactful.

“I had people coming up and sending me messages, crying, saying they haven’t been back to Haiti in years and they felt so much love at the show.”

Photo: Jonathan Mora for BK Reader

Brun pointed out at many of the Haitian diaspora living in Brooklyn didn’t necessarily want to leave—they were refugees from political instability, or natural disaster, and many have not been able to reconnect with their roots for decades.

“That experience of being with that many people having an awakening made me feel finally connected to this in a deeply personal way.”

Brun has lived in Brooklyn for more than five years, and said it feels a lot like home.

Looking back on his start in the music industry, he remembered seeing a lot of white male artists represented in music that has its roots in queer and Black culture.

Realizing the disconnect between the history and the representation in the music industry has pushed him to look globally to platform diverse artists and sounds.

Photo: Jonathan Mora for BK Reader

Brun, who has multi-ethnic heritage, said he’s happy to now be seeing some of the most-played songs coming from countries all over the world. He’s interested in that “global sound”— a sound that seems to feel at home wherever it is played.

“That’s the sound that’s the most exciting for me, and the sound that makes me feel the most connected to people and to art.”

Next, Brun is curating an afternoon for Afropunk in Miami. He has forthcoming releases with Channel Tres, Victoria Monét, and Berhana, and is working on his upcoming album.

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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