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What’s In Your Bag, Michael Brun?

Party on the go

Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales

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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

What’s in your bag? is a recurring feature where we ask people to tell us a bit more about their everyday gadgets by opening their bags and hearts to us. This week, we’re featuring Haitian artist and musician Michael Brun.

Haitian-born artist Michael Brun has always had a singular goal in life — to let the world know about where he comes from through the rich, global tapestry of Haitian sounds. He does this through a unique fusion of electronic music and traditional influence, which borrows from African, European, and Caribbean cadences.

Brun has leaned into this even more over the past couple of years with a tour concept he developed called Bayo. Bayo, which means “to give” in Haitian Creole, is associated with impromptu street parties, mobile sound systems, and the raucous, lively energy of rara bands. Brun has just wrapped the latest round of Bayo parties here in the States, where he traveled coast to coast with fellow Haitian artists to put his country’s music front and center on stages where it would never normally appear. It sold out. So, he’s doing another, bigger round later this year.

A sold out tour is certainly nothing to scoff at, but Brun has even more to celebrate this year. His song “Positivo” with J. Balvin (who you probably know through hits like “Mi Gente,” and his Billboard-topping single “I Like It” with Cardi B) was selected to be this year’s official FIFA World Cup anthem.

So, what exactly does a globe-trotting, World Cup anthem-creating artist like Michael Brun carry around with him day to day? Not a ton, it turns out, but exactly enough to create a party wherever he goes.

The Verge: Tell me about your bag.

Brun: I think I got this bag four years ago in Paris. Before this, I’d had a bag for almost 10 years. It was the same one I had for most of my life, the one I used for going to school. It just lasted that long. It was literally on its last legs and about to rip. I was at the airport in Paris with my manager and he was like, “Yo, you gotta get a new bag.” [Laughs] We saw a Tumi, and I always really liked their stuff. So we walked in, and out of everything this was the one I liked the most. And they had one left in stock. So I got it right there. I took all the stuff in my old bag, put it in this new bag and threw out the old one right before I got on the plane.

It’s a classic.

I love it. It still looks brand new, so yeah it holds up pretty well. It has a lot of pockets. And it’s easy on the eyes.

Let’s see what’s inside.

That’s the 2017 MacBook Pro, and an Incase laptop case.

These headphones are the Audio Technica M50X. They’re very neutral sounding. They’re amazing. I’ve used them for almost everything I’ve worked on in the last year along with one other pair of headphones. They’re not too bass-y and not too high end. I like that they’re light, so they don’t hurt when you wear them for a long time. And they actually work pretty well on flights.

And you DJ with these?

I don’t. I DJ with Sennheiser headphones. I have like, four pairs of headphones on me at any one time. I use these for production.

[Picks up earbuds] So are these your flight/movie headphones?

Exactly. These Shure SE215s are just really good in-ear noise-canceling earbuds. They’re actually the lowest-end model of Shure in-ears, but I’ve tested pretty much all of them and I like these. They sound good, the noise canceling is good... I think it’s the best value for the price you can get.

What’s this little brick?

That’s a Roli Lightpad Block. I did a project called the Beat Making Lab in Haiti, and Roli, which makes this music gear and software, sent a bunch of stuff down. This is one of the things that they have. It’s like a mini pod that you can play, but it’s wireless and it connects with your phone, or your laptop. Whatever you want. It recognizes five different kinds of touch. You can tap on it, or slide [your finger] on it, things like that.

When I’m working on music on the road I like to use this, because on top of like the fact that it looks really crazy, it has a lot of features. The sounds that it comes with are so good, and you can use it on your phone. A lot of the stuff that I’ve been making recently I record on my phone. I record voice notes on my phone and then send it into my computer. And this Lightpad plus the phone gives you a bunch of really cool combinations.

The Lightpad is also modular so you can have five or 10 or 15 of them connected. These pins on the side attach them to each other. Roli also has a keyboard and these other trigger pads... their stuff is super cool.

I feel like it stands out. So many people are used to going to a super fancy studio, and everything is really nice and sounds crisp. My approach has always been that I want to capture the sound and the energy of the moment, whether that’s in the street or in a classroom or in an actual studio. I just feel like it sounds different.

So is this just for recording stuff or do you use it live?

I play beats out on that, drums, or sometimes melodies. I’ve used it once live, but I just like the fact that it’s there if I really need to do something. As long as I have this, and my laptop, and my phone, I have a studio and can even do a show. I have everything I need.

I like this idea of collecting sound like a journal.

Yeah. I think music, and even individual sounds carry a lot of memories. A lot of people with big studios try to recreate moments, but why would you do that when you can capture it as it happens? You could spend five days trying to remake the same vibe as something where you were living it and just forgot to record. So I like the lo-fi approach because I feel like it’s just an easier way to get there.

Yeah and I think there’s also a texture that you get from something that just exists out in the world.

Absolutely. I think it transports you. With Bayo I want people to go on a journey. Everything that I have has a memory attached to it and it transports me as well.

[Eyes glance over to iLok] Oh, this is an iLok. I can’t use my programs without this. I live with it now. It’s annoying. It lets you open up the licenses for all the different plug-ins in Ableton that I use.

Oh okay, and we’re analog. You have a Cross pen.

That’s a pen that my dad give me. When I first started doing music, he gave me a pen for the future for when I sign big contracts. So I’ve been using it ever since. It’s just a memory of my family.

And here’s your passport...

Yes my Haitian passport. Lots of visas for sure from every country I’ve gone to.

You just finished a tour.

This isn’t the first tour that I’ve ever done, but it’s the first Bayo tour, which is a concept that I came up with two to three years ago. The whole point was to bring Haitian culture into the world. I’ve been working in and out of Haiti with a lot of different Haitian artists for a while, since I started making music. Recently I realized the electronic music that I was making really fit with Haitian music in a unique way that’s never been done before. So I worked with different artists, like rara bands, which is like a marching band mixed with carnival music, and pop artists, hip hop artists, folk artists... the sounds all meshed together and it felt unique and at the same time it felt natural.

I wanted to take the experience of those few years working in Haiti and all the experience I had touring as an electronic music DJ and make a whole new show. Bayo is that show. I brought up all kinds of different artists from Haiti that are amazing, they’re some of the most popular ones in the country and really talented. I’m putting them on stage in places where people would never normally see Haitian music, like Irving Plaza in New York.

The whole tour sold out. It was just insane. It was so cool getting to go around with 600 to 1,000 people at each show to share my culture musically and also, I hope, a whole new perspective for the people that came. So, whether they’re Haitian or not, they experience Haiti somehow. It’s going to expand. There’s a really, really big tour planned because it was so successful this time. The next one in the US will probably be end of this year or the beginning of next year.

Stop Motion by Michele Doying / The Verge

You have the official World Cup song for 2018. How did that happen?

It’s been a crazy year, honestly. The first four or five years in my career I was always focused on a song, and then the next song, and then the next song. It was very singular. I started trying to expand the way I think about my career and Haiti and everything about my culture. I’ve always pulled from the same well, which is sharing my culture, whether that’s through videos or through music or through shows. That kind of helped me think about what I wanted to do in a more holistic way.

I felt that the experience I was having with Haitian music was very similar to what is happening in African music right now and Latin music, which are exploding and are so popular all over the world. As I was working on the Haitian stuff I was thinking, maybe some Latin artists or Afrobeat artists might like this. And one of those people was J. Balvin.

I was always a really big fan. I didn’t have anybody to put us in touch, but I always felt like it would work out. And then I met the Latin music editor from Apple Music and played her some of the stuff that I was working on for my upcoming Bayo album. We had just met, it had maybe been 10 minutes, and I explained to her I thought J. Balvin would like this one song. She agreed and said, “I’m going to put you in touch.” I was like okay, whatever, I’ve heard that a million times. But she meant it! About a week later she reached out and said, “Hey, I sent the track over to José. He loved it and wants to speak with you.” We started texting, I eventually met with him and got to work with him!

He’s such a nice guy. He’s super cool and has an outlook for Colombia that’s similar to what I have for Haiti. That’s what I was looking for. I wanted to work with other artists that cared a lot about their country, cared about their music, and saw the potential for the world to be connected. So we did the track, called “Positivo,” and then I think in January he hit me up and said, “Yo, there’s a chance that I might have a World Cup song. The label is asking if I have anything that I want to use. I love “Positivo,” would it be cool if we used that?” And I’m like man, why are you even asking! This is a World Cup song, it’s one of the biggest honors you can have if you make music. That was it! It was that simple and quick and now I have a World Cup song with J. Balvin.

We’re working on more stuff actually. And I’m also working with Mr Eazi, an Afrobeat artist from Nigeria who is exploding right now — all these different artists from around the world where I feel like the energy is the same and we get each other.

Okay so pivoting back to the bag, we also have a Tronsmart portable charger.

The reason I got this charger is because I have USB-C and it charges everything here. And USB-C just charges faster. It doesn’t hold the most amount of charge, but it’s also not super heavy. It doesn’t weigh down the bag so it’s a nice balance.

What phone do you have?

The iPhone X.

How often do you go into a traditional studio?

I have a home studio with speakers and a mic and everything. I basically only go into a studio if I have to record vocals. Sometimes if the vocal isn’t central, if it’s not a lead vocal, I don’t even need to use a studio. I prefer working remotely. I think when you’re comfortable in your setup, that’s when you make your best stuff because you don’t have to think about things like, how do I control that knob to do that thing? What I use I know back to front, and it helps me work really fast.

What’s your favorite show you’ve ever played?

I have a few. The first time I did Ultra was really cool. I think I was 20, so I had just started professionally producing and DJing. I played the main stage. I was the first Haitian to ever play at Ultra, and right after I played Coachella. That was nuts. It felt like one big experience. That same year I played in Haiti at this classic venue where big international artists would come perform. And it sold out. I also really love Bayo shows because of the energy. It’s 100 percent fans so they know every single song.

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