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Like most kids, Amirah Coleman loves music. But when this 12-year-old jams out to her favorite tracks, she doesn’t play them on headphones or a home stereo.
Instead, she steps up to a pair of Technics 1200 turntables and loads the songs into the Serato computer program. From there she cues up a Pioneer S9 mixer to layer the tracks over each other, then uses the turntables to sync the beats and adjust the pitch until the songs blend into one seamless playlist.
“It’s just the best way to listen to music,” she says. “There’s nothing better than when it’s mixed right.”
While her process may seem complicated or even cumbersome for the average music fan, it’s second nature to Coleman, who’s been a DJ for years, despite her young age.
Known as DJ Mirah when she performs, the sixth-grade St. Dennis Catholic School student is earning a bit of notice around town. Over the last couple of years, she’s played gigs that would make some beginner DJs twice her age jealous. So far, her résumé includes shows at the Majestic Theatre, Harmony Bar and Grill, Robinia Courtyard, Willy Street Block Party, the Memorial Union, a few Badgers tailgating events, kids’ parties and even Reverie in Chicago. Granted, these are afternoon or early evening time slots. She is only 12, after all.
Coleman says she feeds off the crowd’s energy when she’s performing. “I love seeing people react to the songs I play — dancing, singing along, waving their arms, smiling,” she says. “It’s great to see the music make them happy.”
What she plays depends on the crowd, of course. For those younger than 18, she leans toward “more of the pop stuff that’s on the radio,” so it’s artists like Ariana Grande, Drake and Shawn Mendes, she says. “For adults, they tend to like older hip-hop, like Outkast and A Tribe Called Quest,” she says.
Coleman got her start at the age of 5 when her dad “decided he wanted his own personal DJ,” she says with a laugh. First, he bought her a simple plug-and-play mixer that connected to a computer and mimicked two turntables. Seeing how much she enjoyed that, he began taking her to the free classes at the DJ equipment store MC Audio, where she learned to mix and scratch records. Soon, real turntables and professional equipment followed.
Her teacher at MC Audio, “Brook the DJ” Bartels, says Coleman “always had natural rhythm and a good ear — though she did have to stand on a crate to reach the turntables” when she started lessons at age 6.
Bartels, who’s helped Coleman land some of her gigs, says she has a bright future as a DJ. “This will definitely be a way for her to make decent money in her late teens and early 20s,” he says. “And then, by the time she’s 26, she’ll have 20 years of experience.”
Coleman makes sure to squeeze in “at least 15 minutes a day mixing and scratching — we call it the ‘15 minutes of fury’ — just to keep my skills up,” she says.
She plans to keep at it and hopes to play more outdoor gigs this summer. “Maybe someday I can use my DJing to pay for college,” she says.
Steven Potter is a Madison native who has been writing about music for nearly 20 years.
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