Photo: Steve Baboun
These Haitian Artists Are Uplifting Their Homeland With Earthquake Relief Efforts: Michael Brun, Lakou Mizik, Naika & Jackboy
In the early morning of Aug. 14, 2021, a devastating earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 struck southern Haiti, impacting more than 500,000 people. The disaster occurred over a decade after the last 7.0 earthquake hit the capital, Port-au-Prince, causing similar damage to the land and displacing its people.
A month before the recent earthquake, Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse was shot 12 times and killed in his home in Port-au-Prince. Elsewhere, Haiti is currently reporting four new COVID-19 infections on average each day; comparatively, the United States is currently reporting 87,812 new COVID-19 infections on average each day.
But Haiti continues to be confined by negative stereotypes of strictly being an impoverished country with no type of educational system or adequate healthcare.
To combat those closed-minded perspectives, Haiti's music community immediately stepped in to change the narrative about the people and their homeland. Artists spanning all genres not only give their time and resources, but also use their music to celebrate community, pride, and the range of sounds they bring to the world.
From arranging blood and food drives to creating fundraisers and music education programs, artists out of Haiti are leading by example to show that charity indeed begins at home.
GRAMMY.com spoke with a few Haitian acts to talk about how they're using their platforms musically and in the community to change misconceptions about their home.
Originally studying to become a pediatrician, DJ/producer Michael Brun has never had a problem using his musical powers for good. The Haitian/Guyanese producer, who's behind 2018's FIFA World Cup anthem "Positivo" with J. Balvin and remixes for Tiësto, Calvin Harris, and Alicia Keys, has spent the last six years as a mentor for the music program at the Artists Institute Haiti, a school that provides access to musical instruments and production to youth, among other programs for young artists.
Also the founder of the record label Kid Coconut in 2014, Brun piloted the Wherever I Go Festival in 2016 as an effort to fund scholarships to the Artists Institute's students. The Port-au-Prince-born festival organizer's brainchild later became Bayo Festival, a touring block party-style extravaganza to showcase over 40 Haitian performers and musical stylings.
Brun just launched a GoFundMe campaign and a video series, hoping to get people to donate or take action. "In my lifetime, I've seen Haiti go through so many different really extreme situations, whether it's political instability or the country going through some type of disaster," Brun, a former hospital volunteer, told GRAMMY.com via Google Meet. "It's a lot of trauma to the people and the country, and it causes things to feel unstable. All of the work that I'm doing feels like a mission; it doesn't feel like a weakness."
Nine-member musical collective Lakou Mizik originally came together in 2010, aiming to uplift the people after the devastation of the earthquake. The group uses its performances to preserve history and connect the past to the present, meshing together Vodou chants, traditional Haitian songs, modern sounds like kompa and rara, and positive messages.
Having to slow down on performing gigs and hosting educational workshops because of the coronavirus pandemic, Lakou Mizik dropped Leave the Bones last August as a move to invite listeners into their colorful, vibrant world of counternarratives to famine or socioeconomic struggles. The band recorded a 2019 project, HaitiaNola, as a sonic linkage that connects the Haitian and Creole communities.
"When we're on stage and we sing, it's really about the energy and smiles that we bring to the world," lead singer and Artists Institute instructor Steeve Valcourt told GRAMMY.com. "Whenever we have a problem, we're all united. You see love among us, and our music shows why Haiti is special."
"Ride" and "Sauce" singer/songwriter Naïka has been fortunate to take her talents from studying at Berklee College of Music to competing on NBC's "The Voice" and having her music featured in an iPhone commercial. Now a viral sensation, the Haitian-French descendant born Naïka Richard is using her influencer status to shed light on her Haitian lineage.
Naïka gathered supplies and clothes in Los Angeles to have them shipped to Haiti. The entertainer behind the recent Lost in Paradise, Pt. 2 EP additionally purchased and sent tents to Haitians who lost housing. The 23-year-old, Miami-born social media starlet recently became an ambassador for Fleur de Vie, a nonprofit that works to create a stable educational infrastructure in Haiti.
"I'm looking forward to working with them because they've been hands-on in helping with earthquake relief and continue to do amazing, inspiring work," Naïka said."Haiti is a country with a rich, powerful, and surprisingly unknown history. I hope my music brings happiness and comfort as well as a sense of awareness, exploration, and empowerment."
When South Florida rapper Jackboy visited his homeland, he saw patients sleeping outside of the hospital because there were no more beds, and knew he could do more. For the growling and snarling rapper's latest video, "Where I'm From," the 1804 Records artist harmonizes and tongue rolls over snapping snares as he shares a graphic view of his interactions with Haiti's people and the ambiance across the island.
Captured in the clip giving hospital patients without beds their own envelopes of cash, Jackboy created a GoFundMe to help build and staff a state-of-the-art hospital. The 24-year-old performer born Pierre Delince caught the attention of GRAMMY-nominated rapper Lil Baby on Instagram. The Atlanta rapper pledged a generous donation towards Jackboy's campaign towards a medical facility.
"Hearing about it, it's just a bad situation, but when you actually go there and see Haiti, it's overwhelming," Jackboy said. "This little bit that I'm doing is alright, but I can try a little more."