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Scratchin’ the Surface of Charlotte Arts and Music with DJ Fannie Mae

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Peter Zay - Zayphoto
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DJ Fannie Mae performing a ground-breaking live set with the Charlotte Ballet in 2015.

Any DJ can press play on a pre-made mix of music and hope for the best. But a good DJ is equal parts performer and listener, taking a pulse of the room and translating that feeling into a living mix of songs that taps into the crowd’s mood. And a great DJ is more than just an act, but also a community builder and an advocate for inclusivity.

Charlotte's DJ Fannie Mae is most definitely in that “great” category, breaking ground as the first DJ for the Charlotte Ballet, as well as the go-to DJ for the Queen City’s museums, clubs and festivals.

"If we can go to all these places and we all have a good time, just imagine the burdens and the barriers that can be broken. That’s the power of music."
– DJ Fannie Mae

Interview Highlights:

On her path to becoming a DJ:

Before there was DJ-ing, I was a musician. I came up in a very, very musical family. Music is literally streaming through my veins. I feel like if you took a picture, it would be music notes streaming through there. But it was one night at UNC Chapel Hill. The party was jumping! It was so great. And the next week, we went to the same club and the DJ was trash. And I stood on the dance floor, I stopped dancing, I looked up and I said, “Well, if he can kill the party, then I can DJ.” And then the next day, I went out and bought my own DJ equipment. And I’ve been DJ-ing ever since.

On how she uses room sense to keep a pulse on the crowd and her music mixes:

When I start, I have to get myself in the groove. Honestly … it depends on where I am and then I can correlate my mood with what the room may like. I look for head nods, what people are saying. I stay observant to it. And from there, we begin to feed off each other, and I can then know where to go and how they guide me.

That’s what you think most DJs do, but it’s not a skill that all DJs have. The best DJs [have room sense.] It’s so often that I don’t hear great DJs, and that’s very disappointing. It’s like, “C’mon man, groove us! Sense the crowd!” And sometimes, with our male counterparts, they don’t always use that room sense because they’re going to do what they want. It’s “follow me, I’m the leader” instead of “we work together.”

On receiving respect as a DJ:

One time, I was at this party, and a woman came up to me and kept asking me to play this and that, and this and that. And at the end of the night, she tried checking me on not playing this or that. And I said, “Girl, I’m not your iPod. You can’t tell me what to play.” And then I walked off. I take offense to that. I don’t come to your workplace, telling you how to push your buttons on your computer at the desk where you work 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. I don’t do that, so I take offense at you doing that to me with my job.

On the effort of being a DJ:

The effort involved in sitting down and downloading 200 or 300 songs. Sometimes I’ll go down the rabbit hole of finding music, and I’ll look up and it’s been three hours. When you look at music, there’s so much. I feel like there’s no way we can count how much music has been made in the history of time.

On her identity as an original artist and a DJ:

When I decided to be a DJ, I knew that I would use the fact that I could play music wherever I wanted to my advantage to play my own original music. And now I forget to play it! But I’m getting better at remembering.

The male ego, I believe, helps men in automatically promoting their work and they can be like, “Look at me. Watch me roar. I’m the best!” As for me, as a woman, I know I’m great, but I think, “Maybe it wasn’t time to play my original song.” I had a great compliment from a friend of mine recently. She said, “It’s so good to see you. Your original artist confidence is finally matching up with your DJ confidence.” And that to me is amazing. When you strip down DJ Fannie Mae and you begin to look at who Tiffany is, that’s the core of who I am: it’s singing and songwriting. It’s vulnerability to the next level, so to now have it all out in the open and to self-promote, it’s like: How do I do that properly? It’s an uphill battle that I’m conquering. Especially with 2019 being here, I know that I have to begin to walk in a new level of confidence if I’m going to achieve the level of greatness that I see for myself.

On DJ-ing a variety of events, festivals and fine arts performances in Charlotte:

It’s such a beautiful array of people, honestly. There hasn’t been a type of music that I haven’t touched in Charlotte. When you look at the scope of the city, no one appreciates the diversity that Charlotte has to offer. Thankfully, I’m so blessed to have been able to touch all these parts and to be able to say, “Oh, they’re here, so let me offer them what they like. Let me let them feel at home.”Because as a DJ, that’s what I offer, and that’s what music allows you to feel. It’s the feeling of home. So, to me, that’s what Charlotte is: it’s a lot of different homes here. Whatever your home is, I want to provide that feeling to you. So to be able to do the Charlotte Ballet and then DJ a hip-hop club and then an art show, that diversity is not something that people will talk about — to say, “Charlotte is amazingly diverse, and there are places where we can all go and celebrate our diversity.” And that, for me, DJ-ing has been an opportunity for me to look at that diversity and celebrate it through music.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

DJ Fannie Mae - “Anything”
DJ Fannie Mae - “Ex-Games”
DJ Fannie Mae - “Hood Jealous”
DJ Fannie Mae - “Interested”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival (named one of the “best podcast conferences” by Buzzsprout) and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier, named “Best Podcast” by Charlotte Magazine and honored for excellence in arts and music podcasting by the local Edward R. Murrow Awards and The Webby Awards (called “The Internet’s Highest Honor” by The New York Times).