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Partly cloudy skies early will give way to cloudy skies late. Low 42F. Winds SE at 10 to 20 mph..
Partly cloudy skies early will give way to cloudy skies late. Low 42F. Winds SE at 10 to 20 mph.
Updated: November 7, 2022 @ 6:09 pm
They wore white with splashes of yellow, his favorite color, and waved their flags in tribute as more than two dozen Haitian musicians paid him the ultimate tribute.
They sang his song , “Ayiti Se,” adding a final stanza memorializing his impact on their lives, their music — and their troubled nation.
But before they were done, there was one more tribute. Donning white church robes, they returned to the stage and debuted his final composition, a gospel called “Tout Glwa Se Pou Ou” (All Glory to You Father).
Three weeks after unexpectedly dying after collapsing on stage during a concert in Paris, the Haitian singer and songwriter Michael Benjamin — better known as Mikaben — was remembered Sunday for his love of country, his social consciousness and contributions to Haitian music.
“He did not die. He can’t die. He had too much love in his heart,” his father Lionel Benjamin, a musician in his own rite, said during the memorial service attended by some 2,000 people at the Miramar Cultural Center in Miramar, Florida.
Billed as “a Celebration of Life,” the public service followed a private funeral in St. Petersburg, Florida on Wednesday that was attended by about 300 of his family and close friends. His body, flown in from France, was present in a casket, adorned with the Haitian flag in St. Petersburg.
In Miramar, there were instead images of his smiling face everywhere and slides of the tributes by Haitian school children and fans, who defied fuel shortages, civil unrest and other dire realities of their daily lives to pin Haiti to remember him these past few weeks.
“Mika is an artist of my generation, someone I grew up listening to and the way he died was just shocking. You didn’t need to be a fan to be touched by his death,” said Sindy Ducrepin, who was among the many who flew or drove to South Florida, a place that Mikaben considered a second home and where he performed often to pay a final tribute.
An entertainment journalist for Haiti’s Ticket Magazine, which is published by the country’s oldest daily, Le Nouvelliste newspaper, Ducrepin said missing his memorial service wasn’t an option.
In a community where people do not always agree — especially when it comes to the trajectory of their troubled nation — Sunday served also as a display of unity. Musicians came to show their respect, while others like J.Perry memorialized Mikaben, considered one of the most talented musicians of his generation, in a gospel tune. He was just 41 years old at the moment of his death.
Proclamations came from Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam and U.S. Congressman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, who announced Nov. 6, 2021 as “National Mikaben Day.” She described him as “a beacon of hope during troubled times” whose impact was monumental.
His brother and manager Lionel “TiLionel” Benjamin shared Mikaben’s reflections from his last interview where he spoke of hope for better days in his beloved Haiti, and described ongoing divisions in the Caribbean country and among Haitians as “false” and “artificial.”
“I want people to remember his generosity, his integrity and the love that he had for people in general,” his brother told the Miami Herald, adding that Mikaben personified what it means to be Haitian. “He always said that the most important thing is for people to work on themselves, and to be Haitian first. That is part of the way we can save Haiti.”
Lionel Benjamin, joined by his wife, Roseline, said he hoped homages they’ve seen dedicated to their youngest son across Haiti since his death, “helps our country get out of the crisis it is in.”
Throughout the three-hour service, where fans were asked not to cry, Mikaben was remembered for his “extraordinary musical talents” and as a hit-maker. After hearing his ode to Haiti after the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake, “Ayiti Se” (Haiti Is), the elder Benjamin said he told his son, “I now consider [you] among the great Haitian composers.”
There were other hits too including the songs “Fan’m sa’a Move” and “Baby I miss you,” that he co-wrote with CaRIMi singer Richard Cave for the band. He was performing with the popular band — whose members credited him Sunday with putting them back together after their shocking 2016 break-up at the height of their popularity —before more than 15,000 fans in Paris, draped with a Haitian flag, when he collapsed.
“If he wasn’t feeling well, I would have known,” said Fritz “Fito” Hyacinthe, who manages CaRiMi and often serves as Mikaben’s manager when the singer’s brother-manager was not traveling with him. Mikaben, Hyacinthe said, was a fourth member of the band.
“He was a great musician, who was always helping other artists especially up-and-coming artists in Haiti,” Hyacinthe said.
With larger-than-life-size images of the artist draped in the Haitian flag with his guitar, and other cut outs, the artist was memorialized in music and memories.
His young son, Gabriel, recalled his father’s sense of humor and his “many many projects, “ as he announced a foundation in his father’s name. Later, Benjamin’s widow Vanessa told the crowd of how they met, bringing the room to laughter as she recounted the pursuit.
“You are not dead Mika because your mission is not done,” his mom Roseline said in French.
As the service ended, the crowd made their way outside to the lawn where amid the raindrops they released yellow and white balloons in the night sky, his music playing in the backdrop.
©2022 Miami Herald. Visit at miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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