Culture / Entertainment

Houston’s Own DJ Sun Releases a New Album That’s a Loveletter to the City and Unique Music

The PaperCity Interview

BY // 07.15.22

Like his namesake, DJ Sun has a lot on the horizon. 

The Houston-based musician’s third studio album, Loveletter: Red Hook to Rotterdam, is set to be released next Saturday, July 23. That same evening, the seven-time Houston Press DJ of the Year will do something he’s dreamed about for five years. He’ll present his electronic compositions with live musicians.

Loveletter is, indeed, a love letter — to DJ Sun’s childhood home, to his family, to all his past loves, to slowing down and enjoying the moment.

These musings, married by the sounds of early hip-hop, lo-fi, soul, disco and vintage old school aesthetics, will be brought to life by a 14-piece orchestra featuring drummer Chris Dave, as well as rapper Fat Tony and singers SAM/SIN (DJ Sun’s daughter) and Louis Morales. Houston Poet Laureate Outspoken Bean and astrologer Jasmine Richardson will provide spoken word performances.

DJ Sun selected the artists himself, pulling from a wide repertoire of friends and past collaborators. The eclectic concert will be held at Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston, DJ Sun’s alma mater. PaperCity, whose coverage of DJ Sun began in the 1990s, is the media sponsor of the concert.

Multimedia artist DUAL will also showcase a piece of artwork inspired by Loveletter, which will be displayed at Blaffer after the performance. Eighty percent of the sale of the artwork will go towards cancer treatment for DJ Chicken George, a Soular Grooves DJ and longtime friend of DJ Sun.

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Born in the Netherlands and raised in Suriname, DJ Sun — whose real name is Andre J.E. Sam-Sin — is a man of many backgrounds. He speaks three languages (four, if you include “survival Spanish”) and has ancestry that spans from the Dominican Republic to China. One city, however, holds a special place in his heart: Houston. He has established himself as a prominent figure in the H-Town music scene, hosting his own radio show, Soular Grooves on KPFT 90.1 FM, and owning and operating the popular local music venue The Flat, in addition to producing his own music. 

In anticipation of this event, PaperCity sat down with DJ Sun to talk all things Houston, his unique heritage and Loveletter

 

Why Houston?
Houston gave me a lot of opportunities. I was able to do a radio show in ’95 called Soular Grooves, and I held that radio show for about 20 years just based on the support that I got. Everything I did around that time was “Soular” — a play on DJ Sun, but also a play on music that has soul. 

In the mid to late ’90s, I started putting together live shows that had musicians, mostly jazz musicians. We did it at Rockefeller’s. I did different weekly parties. There was one called Groove Shop Thursdays at a place called Magic Bus in the middle of downtown. I did a Monday night called Soular Sessions at Cafe Brazil in Montrose. I was getting — and still get — really great support from Houston for what I do, which is non-mainstream music that reflects something a little different. 

It behooves me to stay in this lane and not give into mainstream callings. It’s easier to go mainstream because that’s where everyone is, but it’s worth taking the chance to stay within something that you’re super-passionate about. Houston gave me that opportunity and that support. It was somewhat surprising in the beginning, but then it became something that I was really appreciative about. It was a mainstay.

Since then, I’ve been able to do The Flat, which is a place that I DJed at for eight years before purchasing, and I’ve been able to maintain the same kind of aesthetic.

DJ Sun
DJ Sun, circa 1999 (Courtesy DJ Sun)

How has your multicultural upbringing influenced your music?
In Suriname, the radio stations were non-formatted. In other words, you could hear country songs, rock ‘n’ roll songs, soul, salsa, Kaseko, reggae. As a youth, you’re picking up on all these different styles, as though they all belong to the musical palette of what’s happening in your life. You’re not put into one specific category. It was just all really great music. 

Suriname is where I honed my palate. Then I got into hip hop in my late teens in the U.S., and noticed it borrowing from a lot of the things that I grew up with. That segment of music formed what my aesthetics were going to be, and I think you can notice that in my music production.

What heritage do you identify with the most?
I’m a Martian. [Laughs.] In my twenties and thirties, I was looking for identity, and a lot of what crossed my mind was the question: Where’s home? It was mostly a theoretical question. Earth is my home.

If you step in The Flat on any given Saturday, on the patio I’m listening to, like, four or five different languages, which is a testament to what Houston is about. Houston is very diverse, and I love that about our city. 

Even within my family, there are so many different cultural backgrounds, from East Indian to Creole to Chinese heritage. My last name, Sam-Sin, is Chinese. DJ Sun is an homage to “Tsun.” I paid homage to my ancestor, whose original name was Tsun, when he came to Suriname from China.

How did you get started as a DJ?
I always wanted to go into music, but I’m not classically trained. You don’t just pick up a trumpet or get on a piano and go, “Okay, I’m a musician now!” DJing was my entryway into it.

Since I was a kid, I wanted to do radio. I saw myself, as a 10-year-old, on a radio show, and so that morphed into doing radio. The goal was always to be able to make music. Then, with the way music production developed with drum machines, I could start using my ear and my intuitive sense to make music that fits my lane of what I like to do.

Why did you decide to do this release event with a 14-piece orchestra?
The idea came from the way I presented my first album, One Hundred. I did a couple of festivals where I had musicians around me. I noticed that when you take music that’s produced on a drum machine, it’s not in perfect key structure. The very talented Tim Ruiz had to transcribe some of the stuff that I had produced on One Hundred in order for us to perform it. My intuitive notion was to go ahead and get my music transcribed as soon as possible, without even knowing what I was going to do with it yet, and I recruited Dr. Henry Darragh. 

When the music is actually performed, it just resonates a lot better with a full-on live experience. I also wanted to do that with a full-on visual experience, so I got Justice Tirapelli-Jamail, and I recruited Tamirah Collins to create videos to play in the background.

And then there’s the amazing Chris Dave, who has been recruited for work with Adele. He has a little bit more of a free-flowing spirit, a little bit more of a jazz, soulful spirit. I found it important to also bring that particular element to the orchestra.

Of course, we’ve got to mention the Blaffer Art Museum, the Moores School of Music and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center. Having a vision is one thing, and then being able to present it is another. I’m glad that Steve Matijcio, the director of Blaffer, saw my vision and was able to present it to these organizations that offer this kind of support.

It is a one-of-a-kind experience, where as a producer you present your first performance as an orchestra. Orchestras usually do this only with legacy albums, things that have been out for 20 years. I’m doing it backwards.

Cover art for DJ Sun’s “Loveletter”
Loveletter will be brought to life with a 14-piece orchestra at the University of Houston. (Courtesy DJ Sun)

On the inspiration behind Loveletter?
My previous album, Qingxi, was a very personalized journey. It sounded completely different from my first album, and it was reconciling my direct ancestry from China. After doing such a personalized project, I was in a block. I didn’t really have the next idea, so I took a trip to New York, and I ended up in Red Hook. 

Red Hook very much reminded me of Rotterdam, where I spent the first seven years of my life. That started a little bit of a love affair with Red Hook, with that area and that aesthetic. The whole weekend was just inundated with great music. I got away mentally, and then I came home, and I was, like: “I know what I’m doing next.” So I wrote a love letter based on the music, based on what I felt that weekend. I was walking the streets and going, “Oh, wow, I remember this!” Sometimes that’s what it takes to just keep going.

Then things started happening in the world, and it became a lot more pertinent to have a love letter. We know and we see what’s happening around us, and I felt like the world needs a love letter.

As an artist, it’s my job to somehow contribute to society, and that’s my contribution.

The Loveletter album-release concert will be held at Moores Opera House at the University of Houston next Saturday, July 23. Doors open at 6:30 pm; the concert begins at 8 pm. You can get more information and buy tickets here

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