Bayo means community, and there has never been a better time to remind ourselves that we're not alone.
Bayo is also the name of Haitian DJ and producer Michael Brun's block party and event series, which has grown from 500 revelers to 3,000 since it launched in Haiti in 2016. With social gatherings still on pause, Brun is changing the game and going digital, linking with Bacardi to bring a unique concert experience to virtual crowds near Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles on August 14 and 15.
But this isn't your average quaranstream.
"Connecting the world — that's the main thing," Brun says. "These last six months have probably been the most intense for most people, for a lot of different reasons. I'm just trying to, through a lot of darkness and negativity, find ways to empower others to create happiness and joy for as many people as possible. That's really what I hope I can take from this moment, because I'm in a position to be able to do that. It's a blessing, and I try my best to create positive energy with what I've been given."
The last show Brun played before the shutdown was in Minneapolis. The 28-year-old rocked the crowd, hopped on a plane, and flew home to his new apartment in Brooklyn. Two weeks later, Brun had trouble breathing. He was nauseated, feverish, and shaking with chills. He tried to eat, but he couldn't taste anything. The only thing he could stand to drink was coconut water.
"I'm still not sure if it was COVID, because I wasn't able to get tested," he says. "I seriously almost went to the emergency room."
Brun's little sister had come to spend her spring break and stayed when classes went digital. She nursed him back to health and became quite a comfort as quarantine continued. Sports were canceled and airports were shut down while confirmed case numbers climbed across the country. Brun had regained his health, but fear, anxiety, and isolation mounted.
"It was actually right after I got better at the beginning of April that I was like, I really want to do shows," he says. "I wanted to start putting good energy back out there because this has been scary, and I feel like a lot of people are in a similar position."
One day in April, he went live on Instagram and started talking to fans. He played new music for them and even welcomed some of his musician friends to chat with him. Thousands of viewers tuned in and shared their own stories in the chat. That spirit of community was there, so he came back and did it again.
Each time he went live, he tweaked the setup. He moved from his living room to his kitchen, which became his go-to studio space. He made a stand for his phone out of cereal boxes, figured out how to route the audio to his phone through his laptop for better quality, and found the perfect mic. By the time of his birthday in mid-May, he'd perfected the formula. J. Balvin (for whose latest album Brun produced three tracks), Mr. Eazi, Arcade Fire's Win Butler, and others called in, sharing songs, stories, and birthday well-wishes.
It was time to take this formula to the next level.
"I remember all the summer movies started getting delayed, and that was like a crazy indicator for the entertainment industry," Brun says. "Let's think about ways we can create sustainable, equitable models for artists to put on shows, give fans and supporters a chance to see exciting stuff, get new music and continue to be entertained without having to put themselves at risk."
The Bayo digital showcase takes everything Brun loved about his livestreams and amps the production to new heights. An in-studio live performance is elevated by green-screen technology to create a colorful, energetic experience. Because the show is 100 percent live, fans will have the chance to interact with Brun with a mix of chat and video. Brun can also welcome musical guests to the stream, much like the Instagram broadcasts that inspired the project. But this time around, experiential tech event company Tixr will run show production.
"It's pretty open-ended if I have an idea about something that I wanted to maybe do," Brun says. "[Tixr hasn't] said no yet, which is pretty cool. I hope it can serve as a model for other artists to set up their shows and tours without having to compromise on a live situation, like a drive-in or something that can put people at risk."
Rather than throw one big event open to any fan worldwide, Brun chose to limit the digital concerts to a 100-mile radius from the flagship city. In order to purchase tickets, fans need to enter a ZIP code within that radius of Chicago, Miami, or L.A. Brun says the idea is that the geographic restriction will allow him to craft a more intimate show, tweaking each stream to give it a unique local flavor.
"I wanted to try as best as possible to create a handcrafted experience to the city, taking the general vibe of what Bayo is about, but then adapting it to where we're gonna be at," he says. "It's an experiment, to be honest. We're going to see how this plays out versus doing it on a wider scale."
The experiment comes to computers and mobile devices in the Miami metro area Saturday, August 15, with Tixr streaming the show in full high-definition "with pristine audio."
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The caveat: Because the party's sponsor is Bacardi, revelers must be 21 and over.
If the event proves to be a success, Brun sees the digital frontier as a viable option to bring Bayo around the world — even after the world opens back up.
"It's not a replacement for a physical event. It's just a distinctly unique experience that has nothing to do with that," he explains. "Hopefully, we'll be able to get people from other parts of the world to come and experience what I'm doing in a city digitally in the future. I've always hoped that as an artist, I'd be able to bridge different parts of the world. I think this is an opportunity to do that."
Michael Brun Presents Bayo. 7 p.m. Saturday, August 15. Tickets cost $5 via michaelbrun.tixr.com.