Like many, Eugene Hammond, AKA DJ Swanzy, left his home in Ghana and came to the U.S. in search of a better life, and the chance to pursue a dream. At California State University Channel Islands, he quickly found not one, but many roles for himself: IT help desk assistant, orientation leader, resident assistant, and events coordinator for the Black Student Union. What’s more, he’s also a rising DJ, gaining prominence on campus as the go-to mixmaster. I talked with DJ Swanzy about his music, the differences between California and Ghana, and his hopes for the future.
What brought you here from Ghana? I came to the U.S. for the same reasons many people do, I suppose. I made the trip with my mother to chase the American dream, have access to better educational opportunities, and ultimately have a better life.
When did you begin DJing? I began DJing in my sophomore year of high school, 2011. My first gig was at an event called The Barnyard. It was a big deal for the local area and all of its students. At the time, all I had was a Sony Vaio to work with and was barely getting paid anything, but I knew a lot of people from being involved in a lot of school activities and wanted to DJ. The party ended up being a huge hit and a big part of why I decided to get into the industry. After feeling the energy of the crowd and seeing how I could influence and enhance people’s experience, I knew it was what I needed to do.
How would you characterize your style? I try to keep a well-rounded style and bring different flavors to the table. Obviously, I am African American, but I don’t want my music to be solely influenced by that one background. Living in California and going to a multicultural school like Cal State Channel Islands has been a huge part of being able to accomplish this.
How have you integrated your music into campus life? What makes CSUCI a good/receptive venue for your music? When I first came to the campus, the school really had no nightlife to speak of. I immediately started looking into how to get involved with the music scene and eventually, after becoming a resident assistant, came in contact with the young woman who was in charge of the school’s block parties. I got in to open up for their usual artist, DJ Earworm, promoted it myself, and ended up putting on one of the biggest successes they had ever had. After the first block party, my role and experience on campus changed and I became the go-to DJ for the school’s events.
I thought it would be tough going away to school in a place that was very unfamiliar. But CSUCI is such a welcoming campus, and it did a lot for my acclimation being involved with music for the school so early on. After playing a few events, people starting recognizing who I was and would go out of their way to tell me how much they enjoyed themselves. I quickly felt connected to the community and proud of my part in creating a positive vibe for the campus with music.
How do you feel you have grown since coming to California? What have been some eye opening experiences on campus? Everything is so different in California from the way things are back home. It’s really like two different worlds. I love living in a place where everyone is so unique. You can literally learn something new every day by talking to a stranger, because we have such a diverse population. Being able to connect with individuals from cultures around the world makes me feel closer to people as a whole as well as musically. I am able to draw inspiration from different aspects of the people I meet and the experiences I have with them.
You are very involved in campus and student life. What are your favorite aspects of student life at CSUCI? Being involved in different job fields has been great. Working as everything from an IT consultant to an RA to an orientation leader is probably my favorite, and most valuable, aspect of student life. I have learned so much from my involvement in school programs that I can take with me to be better not just in school or employment, but in life.
Who would you consider your musical inspirations? I try to look closely at what a lot of the older DJ’s have done and follow the paths they have set. Guys like Dj Quick, Khaled, DJ Mustard, and Funk Master Flex. It’s interesting how the industry is. You are essentially taking others people’s music and making it your own. So I take cues from the legends that have done it better than anyone in the world.
What are your hopes for the year ahead? My main goal is to get into a position where I can access a larger audience and spread positive influence to more people. I want to continue growing as an artist and as a person. Traveling to places I’ve never been, playing live shows, and connecting with new people around the country and the world.