DJ Sunny: A Journey From Eldoret To Breaking The Internet In Diaspora America

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By Mukurima X Muriuki, Los Angeles.

Two weeks ago while Sunny Chauhan checked out his Facebook account, a post by Frank Wesonga caught his eye.

Frank and a group of 5 others had founded a Facebook Group called “254 Diaspora DJs Live on the Mix” with the goal of entertaining Kenyans amidst the Covid-19. With people being asked to stay at home in an effort to curb the further spread of the virus, this would help break the monotony of gloom and doom by taking entertainment to people’s living rooms. Frank was looking for DJs to fill open slots for the Saturday schedule. Sunny Chauhan signed up as Dj Sunny for the 10pm slot. 

In any case Dj  Sunny had initially planned on going live that night via his Facebook account platform to do what he loves most-spinning music, but decided to do it on the 254 page instead. His girlfriend June and close friend Idah were going to be present too. At best, he thought he would only get 10 viewers to watch his set.

By the time his set was done, DJ Sunny had attracted 244 viewers which was then a record. More importantly, within a short span, he had caught the attention of Kenyans in America Diaspora. His other stage name “DJ Sistuki” also became an instant hit with fans. 

The following day and with just a little more preparation, Dj Sunny’s Facebook Live Show attracted over 1,000 viewers which was another record. The rest, as they say, is history.

African Warrior Magazine spoke to DJ Sunny on life growing up in Kenya, his transition to America and his hobby as a DJ

Q. How did you get the nickname “Sistuki.”

A. The name goes way back to high school. My desk mate and I used to randomly draw sketches everywhere we went: bathroom, desks, bark of a tree-you know how teenagers in Kenya do it. It was more of leaving a mark “so and so was here.” There was this symbol I used to draw, which my friends read as “Sistuki.” That’s how the name came about.

Q. Where were you born and raised?

A. I was born and raised in Eldoret. I attended Testimony school in Eldoret from nursery to high school.  

Growing up, I lived with my uncle-my father’s youngest brother. When I was young, my father who was in electronics business in Eldoret decided to leave for Kampala, Uganda where he set up another shop. He went with my mom, but he did not want to uproot my siblings and I from Eldoret and that is why we were brought up by our uncle. 

Q. How did you develop a love for music?

A. My uncle’s friend Kiran had turntables and sound equipment” which I would help setup.

He was also a DJ in local events; whenever he was going for a show, he used to tag me along. This allowed me to learn what he was doing while on set. I was the boy standing behind the set, sipping from a bottle of coca cola as the adults engaged in “hanye” and all that good stuff. Consequently, my love affair with music was growing.

My uncle also had a soft spot for music, and because he would play a lot of music, I learned at an early stage different genres of music. 

Like any child growing up, I would mess around with all music equipment at home. This in a way improved my skills and confidence. It wasn’t strange that as a teenager I received invitations to perform at events, bars and so on.

Q.  At what point did you transition to America

A. After finishing high school I worked for a year at Panna Music, which was our shop. Over the weekend I would either be performing at gigs, or just partying with friends. Whenever I went to the club, I paid close attention to what the DJ at the club was doing to keep revelers entertained. It is safe to say this is where I interned as a DJ.

In 2003, I transitioned to America on a F-1 student visa. Specifically, I was accepted to the University of Missouri, Columbia to pursue a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering. This was a great fit for me seeing that I was very good at maths and physics while in High School.

Q. How was Life in America?

A. I was in Missouri for 2 years; I was going to school during the day and the DJ skills that I carried with me from Kenya got me evening gigs which earned me some money. I used to play at this club that was close to college every Thursday. My attempt at introducing Kenyan or African music to the mostly student crowd was not successful because at that time African beats were a non factor in America. I had to settle for genres of music favorable to the environment.  

I had to work multiple jobs to just make ends meet. I was paying $9,000 a semester and while my grades were great, most of the time I spent hustling. I wanted to change that, and that is why I decided to transfer to a Technical community college in North Carolina. I joined my sister who lived there. 

At the community college in North Carolina, I had to attend school at the very bare minimum meaning a few classes per semester in order to keep my F-1 visa status active.

I got a job at Subway which was a minimum wage job, and to supplement my income I would be the Dj at house parties, bars, and small events. I was paying for my own college fees, and while my parents back home contributed part of the fees, I wanted to stand on my two feet, a world away from home.

 In 2007 I  got a job as a salesman with Nissan. I did so well at this job that I quit college. Can you imagine I spent a total of 4 years in college, but I never graduated! I was now  a car salesman breaking so many records and the reward for the hard work was that I managed to buy my first house.  

Q. You are a Salesman who is doing great. Did you still do side gigs as a Dj?

A. Hahah! You bet I was!! 

I got serious about being a DJ in 2007  when my sister gifted me with this awesome set of speakers and other equipment for my birthday. I had the right sound and equipment, and this elevated not just my presentation, but my performance while on set. Concurrently, my profile as a DJ grew: I was now doing many corporate events. For example, I was the DJ for  Walmart and KPMG Christmas parties, and with many other companies. 

Sometime in 2008 by mere happenstance, I met George Mokuasi who is also a founder member of the Facebook Group “254 Diaspora DJs on the Mix Live.” We met at the Cape Fear Sevens Rugby tournament in Wilmington, North Carolina. He was still doing his thing back then-being cheeky and goofy hahhah! For 3 years I was the Dj for the event’s after-party that brought together all the rugby fans. 

Q. What are some of the events that you have put together as a DJ?

A. I have done several events as a DJ, some that I cannot remember. In 2009 I had the opportunity to open for DJ Joe Mfalme; it was also a year that I toured multiple states giving fans some good time on the dance floor. In 2010, I was part of  Raleigh-Kollectiv-an ensemble of a Dj (myself) and 4 guys who were promoters and who wanted to get into the entertainment scene due to their influence. We did great, but somewhere along the way siasa filtered in and that was the end of the idea

Q. Are there low moments as a DJ?

A. Hell yeah! As a matter of fact in 2015 I decided I was not going to be a DJ anymore and for a whole year I did not do any event. The landscape wasn’t very lucrative and I had to rethink what I was doing. Instead of going to events, I spent more time at home during my free time working on mixes that I would share with my fans on Soundcloud. 

Q. Are you still working with Nissan?

A. As I mentioned earlier, I started working with Nissan as a salesman. Within no time I was promoted to a manager position. In 2013 I took up a management role with Infiniti. Car dealership is my forte!

Q. Most DJs have tried a hand as event promoters. Is that the case with you?

A. Yes I have, but it is not as easy and you are making it sound. 

In  2016 I tried my hand as a promoter; I brought Wyre, Nameless, Sauti Sol, Chris Martin, Alaine and Demarco to North Carolina. It was a one man show in the sense that I was creating events, and working on all logistical planning needed to make such events a success. I had my ups and down, but for the most part I was successful. I learned so much about what it takes to interact with different personalities, some with fragile egos.

Q. How did you Join the 254 Diaspora DJs Facebook group?

A. When the group was created, Frank Wesonga posted that he was looking for DJs to fill open slots. There was a 10pm slot available and it worked for me because I was not doing anything at that time. My initial thought was that I was going to be spinning for 10 people;  I just wanted to go live and have fun. 

At that time I did not have the right sound equipment. I was using my phone which was anchored on a tripod for the live show! 

June, who has been one of the dancers on my sets, is also my girlfriend; she contacted our friend Idah (remember her from the popular Kenyan show Mother in Law) who brought the tripod and lights that she uses to record her Youtube channel. After setting up the equipment, we had a few drinks and then I went live. (Make sure to follow @idah_Alisha)

It all worked out.

That day we got 244 viewers which was the highest by then, and mind you this was without the right equipment. The show was more of what my friends and I do while chilling at home, only that we televised it live and it turned out to be a well received show.

Since I was scheduled to go Live the following day, I knew I had to improve the sound quality. Th first thing I did in the morning was to go to a Guitar Center to buy an iRig an interface adapter that helps project better sound quality. That day we set another record with over 1,000 viewers tuned to the show.  

Last Saturday, we set a new record in terms of viewership with over 2,900 fans joining our live show

Q. Last Week You helped Raise Over $7,000 for Gerriey Wainaina’s Medical Funds. How did that come about?

A. Monica who runs the Afya Project initiative, reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to use my platform to raise money for Gerriey who is undergoing a kidney transplant. She gave me as much information as she could about the case and I also did my due diligence, including reading more about Gerriey from available online material. I also read about the kidney transplant process in the state of Washington. All the information checked out and I signed on. For my next set, I committed  80% of all tips to help Gerriey.  However, just before I went live, I decided to donate 100% of all tips received.

The show attracted 2400 viewers and we raised over $7,000 for Gerriey.  

Q. Fans Went Crazy about DJ Rang. Is he your brother?

A. Hahahah! No he is not. 

DJ Rang is really good at what he does. I met him in 2010; he was the DJ at a Nigerian wedding and a mutual friend connected him to me so that I could help him select Nigerian music to play at the wedding. We have kept in touch since then and we always help each other with tips on how to fine tune sound, or any feedback that a DJ seeks in order to get better.   

My girlfriend June suggested that I should bring DJ Rang onboard and it worked out. He has had to reschedule all his events because of Covid-19 and when I informed him about the gig, he signed on. 

We did not advertise that DJ Rang would be playing, and that ended up being a pleasant surprise given the great reception that he received. 

Q. What does Music Mean to you?

A. Music is a way to unwind. I love the fact that music heals. I remember as a teenager I would sit in the car, recline the seat, close my eyes and soak that experience in. This was very therapeutic.  

Q. What Influences the Music a DJ Plays?

A. Every Dj is influenced by his or her experiences in life.  I play a diverse genre of music because I am a product of my environment. Growing up in Eldoret I had a circle of friends that represented the mosaic that Kenya is: I had a Kikuyu friend, a Luo friend, my father is from Kisii, I have an Indian ancestry, and I have lived among the Kalenjin. When you go to a club in America, most DJs play hip hop music because that is their environment and the revelers tend to appreciate such music because it defines the environment they are used to. 

Music connects people to moments, experiences and places. I was not so much into Soca music until I went to the Caribbean and you know over there this genre of music is big. Today when I hear Soca music, it takes me back to the Caribbean and I remember what I was doing when I heard that music.

When people want Mugithi music, it is because that genre of music connects them with certain memories. When I tried playing Kenyan music to college students in Missouri, it was not well received because they could not connect with it. When you play soul music in a club full of Kenyans, you see how crazy they go! It’s because most people in my generation were brought up during the time soul music really hit

Q. Any Future Plans as a Dj?

A. Of course! There is a possibility of DJ Rang and I touring America together post Covid-19.  I have also received several offers by different promoters to perform at various events, but I have made no commitment. 

Q. Do you love reading?

A. Man, I love reading. 

My favorite book so far is a book that was shared by Dj Fully Focus called the Art of Exceptional Living by Jim Rohn. I also love reading books authored by Dale Carnegie. Another favorite book that I love reading is Mind Set by Carol Dweck

Q. Anything that fans don’t know about you?

A. Perhaps the fact that I am not into sports. I never carve out time to watch sports. However, if my friends are watching sports when we hang out, I will follow along.

Q. Who is your inspiration?

A. Kiran, my uncle’s friend from whom i learned what it takes to be a Dj. He died when I was a teeneger, but he inspires me to this date. Sometimes I will be going through a rough patch and I need answers, and he will appear in my dreams and give me the answers I am looking for. 

You can follow DJ Sistuki on his Instagram, soundcloud and mixcloud: @sistuki

info@awmagazine.org

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