Photography courtesty of El Dusty, Corpus-based DJ El Dusty fuses vintage Latin music sounds with modern trap and hip-hop beats to create his own distinct music.
Photography courtesty of El Dusty, Corpus-based DJ El Dusty fuses vintage Latin music sounds with modern trap and hip-hop beats to create his own distinct music.

El Dusty’s success paves way for other up-and-coming artists

April 17, 2019

The section of People’s Street in downtown Corpus Christi where Horacio “Dusty” Oliveira jointly runs Produce, a clothing/art/recording studio space, is relatively quiet. In fact, on the late afternoon of March 28, there is a certain stillness perforated only by the sound of traffic blocks away and the muffled melody of dancehall musician Sister Nancy’s 1982 hit “Bam Bam” spilling onto the sidewalk from closed doors.

Oliveira’s eyes suddenly appear between the door’s window blinds after a knock. Also known as “El Dusty” to the countless listeners around the world, the Corpus Christi native has become one of the city’s brightest success stories in recent years, garnering nods from outlets like Rolling Stone, landing a record deal with Universal Music Latino, and even receiving a Latin Grammy nomination.

That day, his studio was in use by Colombian musician Jefferson for some of his own upcoming projects. According to Oliveira, it has been a busy year for the studio and his homegrown Americano label. Oliveira has already recorded five different projects for various musicians, including some of his own work.

“We’ve just been fortunate enough to be really busy,” said Oliveira, “and the next phase of that is putting all these projects out. Developing the label and developing the spot to where we can work comfortably here and that it is going to be a destination where people are going to want to come and record all the time and work.

“That’s what it’s been this whole year. People have kind of felt the vibe. It’s spreading. I’m getting calls all the time from people that are wanting to come to Corpus to record from Miami, and California, Colombia, and all that.”

It’s a point in Oliveira’s career that has been a long time coming. The 38-year-old knew from an early age that he wanted to be a DJ, something he made clear around the 4th grade when he cut out an ad for a DJ starter set and taped it to his father’s nightstand. The $500 price tag, however, proved to be a no-go for his parents. Despite the setback, the dream never left the young El Dusty.

“I would always see DJs and rappers,” said Oliveira, “and I knew that was something I wanted to do, you know?”

Oliveira’s father suffered a motorcycle injury that caused the family to move around as he received treatment, settling in Houston and Miami for some time. It was in Miami that Oliveira was exposed to DJing through his older brother’s circle of friends that were involved in gang and hip-hop culture. The Miami bass scene was thriving and made an impression on Dusty.

Photography courtesy of Raul Alonzo Jr./Island Waves
Corpus Christi homegrown DJ El Dusty has enjoyed a slew of recent successes, including his first major label debut and Latin Grammy nomination.

“It was really big out there,” Oliveira said, “and it was like prime time to see it. And it was good for me because I was coming of age, and I was figuring out things, and I was watching and curious and everything I would see was getting soaked in. So, it was perfect timing.”

His brother imparted more than just his taste on the young Oliveira. Around the age of 12, Oliveira’s brother brought home a whole setup that he had lifted from a quinceanera: three Technic 1200 turntables, a speaker and a mixer.

“When we set it up,” said Oliveira, “I kind of figured out how to use it, and I got really good.”

From there, Dusty went on to pick up various gigs at weddings, teen nights and other dances. He was eventually able to get an internship with local station Z95 where he DJed on air.

It would be through sampling that Oliveira really found his distinctive sound, a skill complimented when Dusty inherited a massive collection of vintage records from his uncle. Much of his early exposure to the classics also came from Oliveira’s late parents who had a healthy mix of Chicano soul, Tejano and cumbia on rotation in the house Dusty grew up in. Oliveira’s late father, in particular, spent hours listening to music that he saw as his father’s means of escape following the accident that left him paralyzed. To this day, Oliveira will revisit some of the mixes curated by his father.

“Looking at the playlists and then listening to the songs,” said Oliveira, “I kind of feel like I know where he was trying to take himself. It’s pretty crazy. You realize a lot of things about somebody when they pass away.”

Over the years, Oliveira has put in the work to develop his sound, oftentimes in late night sessions where he spends those after-hours escaping in his own ways by working, listening to records and reminiscing on memories of his late mother. His music straddles the intersections of Latinx musical memory. Echoes of the past are woven seamlessly into a sonic collage inspired by sound system culture and the ever-growing electro-cumbia movement. While his tracks may represent a patchwork of these various elements, it remains distinctly Corpus, if not by the imagery Oliveira utilizes, then also through particular instrumental choices he gleaned from fellow Corpus artists like Selena and the Kumbia Kings.

His debut album “Cumbia City,” put out last May on Universal Music imprint Aftercluv, is a culmination of new and old tracks, garnering Oliveira his first ever Latin Grammy nomination for the track that seems to have become his most popular, “Cumbia Anthem.”

“That was a big ass achievement for me,” Oliveira said. “And the fact that it was one of my songs … my style, and that I really didn’t budge to what I was doing. It was a sample, … all the things I wanted in a track.”

Leading up to and since the album’s release, Oliveira has seen an influx of projects and opportunities come his way, including a cross-country tour with Cut Chemist, a childhood hero of his. It was on that tour that Oliveira was able to bring his sound to audiences that didn’t have as much of a background in Latin music. It’s that aspect of his music, the sharing of Chicanx and Mexican culture, that forms one part of Oliveira’s mission.

“It is a big part of my mission,” Oliveira said, “but it’s also a big part of my mission to not totally focus on just one type of person, either. I really want everybody to like that kind of music. I want them to hear the music and be like, ‘Man, that shit is jammin,’ and it just so happens to be a Spanish sample.”

His ongoing bi-monthly dance party, Tropicoso, is one means to that end. Inspired by Oliveira’s participation in Austin’s Peligrosa DJ collective and the subsequent shows they put together, the often sold-out Tropicoso brings in sounds and artists from around the world to the House of Rock where audiences imbibe in a celebration of culture on the dance floor. The next one is slated for April 20 and will feature Soulfiya, 2DLQTZ and El Dusty himself.

But for Oliveira, his mission also goes beyond the music. Part of his vision includes revitalizing downtown Corpus, from the Ritz Theatre to other buildings, as spaces for youth to learn, create and develop as artists in their own rights. These projects may have seemed like far off concepts in his early days, but Oliveira’s recent successes have opened the doors to where his visions can be realized.

“We have a lot of help,” said Oliveira. “The wheels are moving much faster now whereas before, all of us were just trying to get a dollar, trying to figure out how to pay the rent. A lot of agencies start off with a rich guy or an investor. They get to pay people right off the bat. We didn’t really start like that. We just kind of worked our way into it.”

In essence, much of Oliveira’s career has been about carving out a space. Whether it’s through the creation of a moment in time like on the Tropicoso dance floor, or physically-realized visions such as Oliveira’s studio and youth center concepts, El Dusty has succeeded in establishing that space not simply for his art and sound, but for a creative culture that is open for all to take part in.

And while his drive leaves little time for the DJ to relax, his efforts are all part of a labor of love.

“This has always been my hobby,” said Oliveira, “and it’s just now becoming my job, you know? I’m still fresh. I still love doing it everyday. I just don’t see myself stopping.”

 

 

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