Arts & Culture

Who Do You Think You Are?

Houston DJ Andre Sam-Sin's newest multimedia performance highlights his journey back to his roots

By Nick Esquer September 29, 2015

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Houston DJ Andre Sam-Sin

Have you ever wondered about your family history? Ever wondered about the origins of your last name or if you had an ancestor who ruled over a small village? Besides going through a website and having an algorithm do the digging for you, really diving into your ancestry can be daunting on your own, but it can also be a gateway to a new world, opening up your past to better understand yourself. For Houston Andre Sam-Sin, better known as DJ Sun, tracing his roots all the way back to China became a visceral journey and inspired his latest project, Sun’s Resolution, a multimedia experience at Asia Society on Saturday, Oct. 3.

When the Netherlands-born Sam-Sin was 7, he became curious as to why his last name was different from others around him. “I was confronted that I had a Chinese last name. At first glance you don’t necessarily see that in me and, so, for me, it was a curious thing. Since then I’ve been really fascinated about my ancestry,” he notes.

He learned of a great-great-grandfather who left China during famine and wartime for a better life with no money, heading to Suriname, a tiny South American country sandwiched between Guyana and French Guiana. With a population of just over half a million, the small country has a surprising amount of citizens with Chinese heritage.

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Image: Andre Sam-Sin

“There was a lot of chaos around the time that my ancestor left and went to Suriname…China was quite a mess in 1858. It seemed an attractive move to want to leave and go somewhere else,” he says. His ancestor became an indentured servant in Suriname, working off his debts until he became a free man. “From that point he became Surinamese from assimilating into the culture.”

Sam-Sin proposed the idea to journey back to China to the Asia Society a few years ago and got the go-ahead—and the cash—to make the trip this past February. He took a small crew of visual storytellers, landed in Hong Kong and began tracing his steps—or retracing, rather.

Sam-Sin became fascinated by his great-great-grandfather’s origins as he gathered more and more information from history books about the region, including the mass migration from China to South America. He began a correspondence with authors and historians of the publications and was able to pinpoint where his ancestor came from.

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Image: Andre Sam-Sin

“There’s identification and then there’s this idea of going further than that,” he says. “For me I wanted it to be a quest on why I approached life and art in a certain way that may be different from others.”

When he returned, Sam-Sin went to work, creating original music and working alongside filmmaker Jasmine Lee Richardson and projection artist Tim Steinke to develop the mixed-media presentation. Video clips and stills from his journey will coincide with the music, accentuating the DJ’s emotional and visual journey.

“There is info available to at least be able to tell a story about where you’ve come from. I think that’s important of your identity,” Sam-Sin, a Houston resident since 1993, says. “When you’re able to tap into your identity you can see what you want to do and where you’re headed.”

Sun’s Resolution. Saturday, Oct. 3. 9. $15-25. Asia Society Texas, 1370 Southmore Blvd. 713-496-9901.