A Conversation with DJ Soul Sister: Part 1


DJ Soul Sister mixes exclusively with vinyls of records that deviate from mainstream songs and genres.

Sam Ergina, Online Arcade Editor, Jonathan Harvey

A renowned member of New Orleans’ music scene, DJ Soul Sister is a local DJ who has been called the “queen of rare groove” and was the first DJ in New Orleans to receive a “Best DJ” award. The Arcade sat down with DJ Soul Sister to discuss her career, taste in music and the constitution of a great DJ. Her show, Hustle, is from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m every Saturday at the Hi-Ho Lounge .

For the Tulane community, if they’ve perhaps never heard of DJ Soul Sister, how would they know you?

I do a bunch of different things. One of the things I do is host a radio show on WWOZ which is New Orleans community radio 90.7FM and WWOZ.org. It’s called “Soul Power.” I’ve done it for about 20 years and I feature music that I love, it’s considered under the umbrella of rare groove, which is soulful music from the 1970s through 1980s. That’s the time I deal with. It can really be any genre: soul, funk, underground disco, Afrobeat, Brazilian, Latin, roots, reggae, as long as it’s soulful. I’m also a live DJ artist and have been spinning and throwing parties for many, many years. I’m lucky to throw my own party called Hustle on Saturday nights, which has gone on over a decade. It currently resides at the Hi Ho Lounge. I get to open for all of my musical heroes like George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. I played with Questlove and all sorts of people. I just did a show with the Robert Glasper Experiment. Now I’m studying music as a master’s degree candidate in the Musicology program here at Tulane.

How do you think you compare your vinyl-style set to the now much more popular electronic age producing?

One of the things I do is dig, I’m a crate digger. That’s the term that refers to people who just love seeking vinyl in just random, crazy places all the time, looking for stuff you don’t know. With that said, I am not a vinyl snob. For me, it’s about the music. If the tools another DJ works with are electronic, that’s great. All I care about is the music and the skill in putting it together. Computers make it easy, sometimes a computer can do it the work for you. What I personally prefer is vinyl. With vinyl, you have to do the mixing yourself – which is what I love to do. There’s no computer that’s going to sync beats for you when you’re playing vinyl. Vinyl is just the way I choose to do it, to share the music that I love because a lot of the stuff I play is not available via downloading and digital ways like that.

I think you played “PYT” and I think that was the only song I genuinely recognized.

I’ll tell you that’s the only time other than the weekend that Michael Jackson passed away that I actually played that song. I like to focus on things that are rarer and that was a special edit by my friend, DJ KON, on BBE Records out of Boston. He mailed me a few things and I just got it in the mail that day. That’s the first time I listened to it, but it was special because he has access to these multitracks, so there are elements on it that are not on the original album, but that’s not a song I’d normally play. Not because I don’t like it, but because I don’t want people to come to my sets thinking it’s the oldies, but goodies show. I want people to hear stuff that they’ve never experienced.

What was one of your most memorable experiences DJ-ing a set?

The most memorable, honestly that’s hard to answer because there’s always something memorable every single time. I don’t have one memorable one, but the one that sticks out as being just deep for me was that weekend after Michael Jackson passed away. This was at the time when my Saturday Hustle party was at Mimi’s in Marigny, which was on the second floor upstairs. It was packed as usual, but I was playing nothing but Michael Jackson literally for four hours. At one point I mixed in “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” and there’s the breakdown of the song where the singers are singing “ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma ku sa” with the clapping going on. At that point, everyone upstairs starts stomping, and I mean stomping. My DJ table was located next to the bartender and we’re upstairs and the entire place was vibrating. I looked straight at the bartender and I’m thinking to myself “We’re all about to die” because I mean everybody was stomping so hard. Then that part with the clapping ends and it gets back into the music and everyone stopped. I was like “Whew thank God.” It just was powerful, powerful energy, but it was the only time I had ever been scared for my life while I was DJ-ing because I thought that floor was about to come down.

You are a self-proclaimed “crate digger.” If you could suggest some artists for our viewers to go independently look up, in a crate or on their computer, who would you choose?

I like to deal with albums because sometimes an artist might have 10 albums and you choose the one that I would say “No, avoid that one,” so I’m going to give albums. My favorite album of all time is one by Kool and the Gang from 1972. It was recorded and released before they became big hit makers. It’s called “Music is the Message.” It is an amazing album. I bought it when I was six years old by accident and it is my favorite album of all time. It’s been sampled by all kinds of hip hop producers and it’s just a fun record. My favorite artist of all time is James Brown and James Brown has so many records. The absolute number one record to get by James Brown, if you ask me, is “The Payback” from 1973. Those are my top two.

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