DJ Sun: Houston’s Rising Star
DJ Sun mixes music and culture like a gourmet chef. He sprinkles all parts of his heritage – Dutch, Caribbean, Indo-Chinese and African – onto his turntables to the delight of his audiences.
“I don’t want to be driven by what’s the popular curve today,” said DJ Sun, whose real name is Andre Sam-Sin. “I just want to make sure it all makes sense.”
DJ Sun’s father was born in Suriname, a one-time Dutch colony and moved to the Netherlands to get a better education. DJ Sun was born in Rotterdam, before the family moved back to Suriname and later to Texas.
For the past 18 years, DJ Sun has made Houston his home, hosting a weekly radio show Soular Grooves on KPFT 90.1 FM, and performing nightly at clubs.
Back on January 19, DJ Sun celebrated his birthday as well as the release of his debut full-length album One Hundred.
“I’m still an all-vinyl DJ,” he said. “It sounds warmer and it reaches people more than people really imagine.”
How did growing up in Rotterdam, Holland impact your musical influences?
My father had a number of records that were Caribbean-based like Byron Lee and The Dragonaires. I was exposed early to a number of these reggae and Caribbean sounds that were in our household in the Netherlands. Rotterdam was going through a resurgence after the war and there was a lot of good flavor from Suriname, Curacao, Aruba, but I didn’t have it in a tropical setting till I moved to Suriname.
It was in Suriname where I received the most of my influence toward music because Suriname at the time had these radio stations and in the tropics, they party a lot more. You’re finding yourself at these parties on the weekend, where the DJs are mixing disco, calypso, Suriname music, reggae, Bollywood and salsa. That’s kind of where the potpourri came in of different beats and different exposures that I had to different kinds of music. A lot of the stuff I didn’t understand but it sounded good.
When did you move back to Suriname?
At age 7. It was my first experience, having been born in the Netherlands. Here I come as a Dutch kid with a lot of Dutch mannerisms and I’m forced to assimilate into a Caribbean culture and for a 7-year-old, you’re very much influenced by what’s going on around you. You go from almost a kind of gray harbor town with a specific population that dresses a certain way to an all-warm tropical country where there’s festive settings and a lot of different musical styles by way of the radio stations.
Seems like you got your musical education in Suriname.
In the Netherlands, I was introduced to these sounds and once I got to Suriname I was like ‘Wow.’ But at the same time, I remember Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder coming out and that was a huge deal in Suriname. There was also a lot of American music that we were attracted to. What also happens in Suriname is that certain groups that didn’t necessarily make the mainstream in the United States become hits in Suriname. Once I moved to the US, I noticed these records that were dollar-bin records and I was like, ‘Wow, this was a hit in Suriname,’ and I could buy it for a dollar whereas in Suriname I could not afford it.
Then at age 14, you moved to Victoria, Texas.
That was bit of a culture shock because I spent summers in Holland, because we had so much family there. I got a chance to catch up with family and also catch up with European playlists. In the early 80s, European playlists were adopting more reggae, not necessarily the hotter, authentic reggae but the more softer, pop style of reggae. At age 14, I moved to Texas and I really had to kind of fend for myself in terms of musical stuff. I tried to make trips to Austin or Houston from Victoria to find those records that I still wanted to identify with. Bob Marley had just died and that was a kind of sad day in my life; and I was like, ‘How am I going to find these Caribbean flavors while I’m in Texas?’ Luckily enough, Victoria is not that far from Austin, which traditionally has had great record stores.
Did you know at that time music would be your calling?
I really wanted it to be but I didn’t get the encouragement that I needed because again, I was raised by a third-world view of parenting. I expressed an interest in going to high school and learning to play music and it was shot down pretty quickly because it’s not viable. To a West-Indian Caribbean engineer who has higher aspirations for his children, it’s just not an option. You’re supposed to go into a trade: engineering or accounting. I was obsessed with music and I bought my freedom once I got my university degree from the University of Houston.
After you graduated with a business degree, how did you become a DJ?
I totally bought the equipment and I had a Trinidadian friend who I asked for some pointers. I said to my friend Nigel, “How does this work?” and he said, “You got to listen to this side of the turntable and cue up the other side and just match the beats.” I was like, “It’s that easy? Really?” I started doing it and distributing tapes to friends. One of my friends was a lawyer who was setting up a party in the Galveston area. He presented me in lieu of this commercial radio DJ they were looking at. He presented me as “No. We’re not going to use this commercial radio DJ. We’re going to bring in this dude who is the hottest DJ out of Amsterdam.” I didn’t know he was doing this until the story came out later. I was presented as this hot DJ from Holland and I’ve never played out before. Literally, since that beach party, I have not stopped working and that was 1993.