The life of Anna Sumilat ’06 as portrayed on a mix tape looks something like this.
The first track is music. Sumilat’s biggest musical influence is her mother, a third-generation Jewish Russian-American from Philadelphia, who raised her on classic soul music: James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett. Her father, an immigrant from Indonesia, played in a high school band and sang with the neighborhood choir during the holidays. Her parents’ deep love for music and work ethic was passed down to her.
Next is performance. Growing up in a row house in Northeast Philadelphia, Sumilat was raised in a strong-knit community. She loved jumping into the middle of a dance floor. At 9, she performed Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop” at a talent show. As a teen, she choreographed for her high school’s break dancing club, snuck into music shows, and took the stage at open mics.
“Music started creeping in when I was 14. I started to fall in love with turntablism, R&B. I started discovering dancehall,” says Sumilat. “I’ve always had this drive in me to follow my passions and to explore my lust for life. When something comes my way that inspires me to no end, I follow it down the rabbit hole.”
Her mix tape also includes activism. When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, as a high school hip-hop activist, Sumilat organized events that combined music and politics in protest.
“It seems every time there’s a major crisis, I get my best ideas,” says Sumilat. “I’ve always cared. I’m someone who has a soft spot for community, humanity, and sees the potential in both. That’s led me to naturally being an activist because I care about those who are not given a fair shot.”
In response to the 2016 US election results, she founded Unity in Color, a global photography series and platform showcasing inclusive solidarity for women’s equality. Picture a photo shoot with 50 women, all dressed in yellow and gold, a nod to earlier feminist movements. After the photos were published online, people in other cities reached out wanting to replicate the shoot. Sumilat helped build an infrastructure for others to follow. To date, there have been nearly 50 shoots, including ones with men, youth, and one featuring non-binary folks coming up. Events also now include panel talks, community discussions, and live music.
“I really continue to foster creative spaces for people to connect, which is another through line of everything I’ve done since I was a teen,” says Sumilat. Deejaying is another activity that has allowed her to do that. “It can be a surface-level party activity, but it can also be a transcendental experience where you’re bringing in people from all walks of life that may never have been in the same room together. Their guards are down and they’re connecting through music.”
Sumilat cut her teeth as a DJ at Emerson. She was set on New York City after graduating high school, but upon discovering WERS at Emerson and learning that she could DJ on the radio, fate took over. Emerson helped her thrive and harness her passions into a career.
“I came in at 17 years old and said, ‘I want my major to be called the Music Activism Quest,’” says Sumilat. The major she designed would eventually be called Music Production and Social Marketing, which brought together audio/radio, marketing/communications, and political science.
At WERS, Sumilat spun underground hip-hop for three years. Her senior year, she started an R&B/soul show called The Secret Spot, which continues today. It was there that DJ Jasmine Solano came to life. Jasmine, the spirited Disney princess from Aladdin—and the only one that looked like Sumilat—served as the name’s inspiration. Spinning tunes while sharing advice as a kind of love doctor, Sumilat says she devoted her life to that show, which netted her an EVVY Award and Best Female Radio Personality at the New England Urban Music Awards. Today, she continues to go by the name Jasmine Solano, professionally.
“That experience shaped everything. It was truly a metaphor for the rest of my life. My final year I became program director while being on air as Jasmine Solano,” says Sumilat. “I was producing, organizing, managing, and performing. I also led the business side of things while working as a host and DJ.”
After graduating from Emerson, Sumilat built upon the momentum from her college radio experience and moved to New York City, working in video production during the day while deejaying at night. She didn’t get much sleep, but the hard work paid off. Sumilat developed connections with other DJs and eventually started making her own music. Like a song building to a crescendo, things took off from there. She produced and hosted the MTV music travel show Scratch the Surface, performed worldwide with DJ MeLo-X as Electric Punanny, and deejayed for artists like Wiz Khalifa and Beyoncé.
During the pandemic, as DJs were losing work, she helped create the social impact live stream company Club House Global. It provided a sustainable platform for live streaming DJs while raising funds to support social justice coalitions. Sumilat says it was one of the most fulfilling experiences of her life because she was able to bring joy into people’s homes and help the entertainment community while also fusing her love for music and activism. That combo is her work, passion, and purpose.
Sumilat is part digital host, part cultural organizer, part DJ. Or, as she puts it: “Creative entrepreneur. That’s the title that makes the most sense after all this time.” In fact, Sumilat recently returned to Emerson to talk to students about being a creative entrepreneur, as part of the BCE@Work Series, hosted by the Business of Creative Enterprises (BCE) program.
Like a true hustler, she’s not stopping either. There’s more to come in the tech, music, culture space. And even projects bridging music and tennis, which she played growing up. In September, Sumilat DJ’d at the US Open for the first time, introducing her eclectic mix tape to a whole new crowd.