Haitian singer Michael Benjamin, known as Mikaben, is dead

He was one of the most talented musicians of his generation whose ode to his country — “Tell Me” (Haiti is) — two years after its most devastating tragedy, the 2010 earthquake, touched Haitian hearts around the world.

Michael Benjamin, who was better known by his stage name, Mikaben, died Saturday after collapsing on stage in Paris while performing with the Haitian konpa band CaRiMi. He was 41.

“This is a shock,” Haiti-born hip hop artist and three-time Grammy winner Wyclef Jean told the Miami Herald.

Jean said and Mikaben were hanging out together in New York with Haiti-born DJ and producer Michael Brun at his Bayo musical tour. Brun had brought Jean out as a special guest, and he later brought Mikaben and the other artists out for a jam session.

“All I could remember was his smile,” said Jean, recalling how he pulled him into his arms and said: “This is one of the most influential and inspirational young artists of our generation.”

Mikaben’s death was first confirmed in a tweet by social media influencer Carel Pedre and Frantz Duval, the editor of Haiti’s Le Nouvelliste newspaper.

The attempt to revive him played out live on Twitter as Duval, tweeting live from the concert, alerted fans that something was wrong and singer Mickael Guirand asked everyone to leave. “End of the concert. We must evacuate the room, announces Mickael Guirand. “It’s very complicated,” he said. “We need prayers” for Mikaben, said the CaRiMi singer. People fainted in the room.

The artist apparently passed out after he finished performing and proceeded to leave the stage. Later, Pedre, who was at the concert, relayed that he was receiving CPR. As he confirmed his passing, the Haitian music world, including his fellow CaRiMi artists and management, was in shock.

“I’m in disbelief,” singer Roberto Martino said through tears. “This is somebody I was working with for years and considered a brother, a good friend. We talked almost every day. We have a chat together.

Martino told the Herald that he and Mikaben spoke right before he took the stage in Paris. “He was so happy. He couldn’t wait to get on that stage with CaRiMi. It was one of his biggest accomplishments in life. It’s a band that he idolized. I’m at a loss for words. I’m broken.

“Mika was one of the most talented artists that I had ever met in my life,” Martino added. “One of the most humble guys; you never heard him being mad or cursing at anybody. It’s just sad; unbelievable.”

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Michael Benjamin, who was better known by his stage name Mikaben, is with his famous father Lionel Benjamin. Mikaben died Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022 (Paris time) while performing with the Haitian band Carimi in Paris, France. He was 41

Born in Port-au-Prince to well-known singer Lionel Benjamin and his wife, Roseline, Mikaben was one of Haiti’s most talented young singers and songwriters. He began writing at age 15 and continued to hone his skills while attending college in Montreal, Canada. He would later enter a popular song contest, Christmas Telemax, and won fourth place with his song “Nwel Tristes” (Sad Christmas).

Soon, he would embark on a solo career, building a fan base in Haiti, Europe, the French Caribbean and the United States. In 2004, he would release his second album, and a year later he formed the konpa group Krezi Mizik with his cousin, David Dupoux. They would release two albums before Mikaben, a multilingual singer who also sang in English, would decide to go back being a solo artist in 2009. While he would continue to perform solo, he would also work as a producer with several artists such as T -Vice and CaRiMi, while touring with the latter and even filling in.

After the 2010 earthquake, he recorded “Ayti Se” (Haiti is) and performed it before former President Bill Clinton and a crowd of mourners during a commemoration of the disaster that killed more than 300,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless. The song and video were reminders of the country’s beauty.

Always approachable and kind, Mikaben would draw his inspiration for the song from the tragedy itself and a desire to remind Haitians that they were greater than what had happened. He sang about the various cultural elements that could be found across the country and with which Haitians could identify regardless of where they were from or where they lived.

“The song is really amazing,” his older brother Lionel told the Herald in 2012, “a reminder to all Haitians and we want all Haitians to get to know the song and remember to always support the country!”

In an interview with the Palm Beach Post after the earthquake, Mikaben said he was in the mountains when the earthquake struck. He didn’t think it was that bad but quickly realized it was as he drove down and through the streets of the capital where a billboard bearing his face was sometimes the only thing still standing on a street.

He would soon form an organization, Ti Souf Ayiti, with support from the Ministry of Culture. Along with other artists who had survived the devastation, he would visit refugee camps, hospitals and orphanages to perform.

Saturday’s concert in Paris was one of the largest events by any Haitian band, drawing thousands of fans who lit up cell phones during the high-energy performances by Mikaben, Guirand and Richard Cave.

The youngest of three siblings, Mikaben married Vanessa Fanfan in November 2020. They have a daughter and are expecting another child. He also has a son from a previous relationship.

In addition to his wife and children, Mikaben is survived by his parents, siblings and a large fan base.

This story was originally published October 15, 2022 9:30 PM.

Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.

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