Miami-based DJ and producer Michael Brun has become an international presence over the past five years via progressive house hits such as "See You Soon" and "Tongue Tied July." But one particular spot on the globe still holds sway over his heart — his native Haiti. Though he's long incorporated the sounds of the island — kompa and rara music — into his dance tracks, his latest cut, "Wherever I Go," takes the connection a step further: To produce it, Brun traveled to his homeland and wrote and recorded the song with students at the country's Audio Institute.
"I worked with Artists for Peace and Justice [a Haiti-focused charitable organization supported by a bevy of Hollywood A-listers] on something in New York — I was a performer at one of their galas," Brun recalls. "Through that, I got to learn a bit more about the school they were involved with in Jacmel. I thought the concept was really cool — it's a music school that's full scholarship for talented students, people who would eventually be able to get a career in the arts." Finding himself impressed by their program after an exploratory visit in 2014, Brun made plans to return to the Audio Institute with collaboration in mind.
"In June 2015, I took a trip back with the goal of making a song together with the students in a day," he says. "I specifically did not want to bring anything into the project. I wanted to really do something from scratch." Brun — who brought along his father, Patrick (a onetime member of popular Haitian group Skandal), and his cousin, singer/songwriter J. Perry — put out an open call to the students and professors at the school. About two dozen responded.
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"We just all jammed," he says. "We went through different ideas and concepts. It was fun to hear what each person had in mind. It was my job to parse through and find what the song was behind all that. The energy was amazing — it was the best energy I've ever worked with."
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The resulting track, "Wherever I Go," fuses bouncy house with Haitian sensibilities and a series of memorable vocal hooks, all undergirding a tale of a rocky but enduring relationship — a lyric in which Brun sees more than meets the eye. "The song talks about a girl and the fact that in a relationship there's sometimes struggle. It's not always good, but you always stick with it. It's funny, because that's so much what Haiti's relationship with Haitians is, and that made it so much more special. It was mirroring what we wanted to say in the music." The track will be released this Friday, January 29. Brun will launch a tour supporting the song February 18. Spotify has signed on as a promotional partner, and all streaming proceeds from the track will go toward supporting the Audio Institute.
"Wherever I Go" is Brun's first collaboration with the institute, but his commitment to Haiti runs deep. In 2014, he founded record label Kid Coconut, which, in addition to being a home for his own releases, was created with the goal of promoting and developing Haitian artists. "One of the things I'd like to do with my music — what I've always really wanted to do with the label — is to give opportunities to people who would not normally have those same opportunities," he says.
For Brun, though, ultimately it's not only about creating opportunities that Haitians might not otherwise have; it's about leveraging his success to amplify Haiti's rich artistic traditions. As he puts it: "Haitians are very creative and hardworking people. The way that they come up with things is sometimes not what you would expect, because it's through hardship. Haiti has gone through a lot of difficult times, in every type of way — financially, politically, the earthquake — and there's a lot of things that have made the Haitian people resilient. I think the art of Haiti shows that."