Earlier this week, a video of Snoop Dogg and his crew performing 'P.I.M.P.' at Jazz Festival in New Orleans came across the social media wires – and it featured an amazing performance. Not by Snoop or any of his crew, but by the American Sign Language interpreter at the foot of the stage.
There's the version on YouTube.
The interpreter's name is Holly Maniatty and she's a rap specialist. But as the Slate profile explains, she got her start in concert signing years ago when none of her colleagues at the interpreter agency she was working at wanted to do a Marilyn Manson show. She later signed up with a company called Everyone's Invited, which led to her to become a regular at Jazz Festival and Bonaroo – where she signed for her first hip hop group, the Beastie Boys, in 2009.
Strikingly, she's far from alone in what she does. In 2014, the Jimmy Kimmel Show matched her up with two other concert interpeters in a live sign language rap battle.
The woman with the pink flash in her hair in that clip is Amber Galloway Gallego, who is probably the star of the whole scene. This recent Vox video story looks not just at how many artists she's signed for (around 400, including Adele, Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Coldplay) but at the way ASL has expanded and been enriched as music has been taken more seriously as a thing worth expressing.
The Slate profile tells a similar story:
To prepare for the show, Maniatty says she logged more than 100 hours of research on the Beastie Boys, memorizing their lyrics and watching past shows. Her prep work also includes researching dialectal signs to ensure accuracy and authenticity. An Atlanta rapper will use different slang than a Queens one, and ASL speakers from different regions also use different signs, so knowing how a word like guns and brother are signed in a given region is crucial for authenticity.
Signing a rap show requires more than just literal translation. Maniatty has to describe events, interpret context, and tell a story. Often, she is speaking two languages simultaneously, one with her hands and one with her mouth, as she’ll sometimes rap along with the artists as well.
Gallego is involved with a ASL band camp happening in July. here's the video invite. Note that the rapping here is entirely in sign. There's no voice being translated.
But, you may be asking, do deaf people actually go to concerts? Yes they do! Again from the Slate story:
Kat Murphy is a 30-year-old Memphis native who is hearing-impaired; she can hear beats but not words. Along with her boyfriend, Melvin, who is “profoundly deaf,” Murphy was at Bonnaroo and attended both the Wu-Tang and Killer Mike shows. She witnessed Maniatty's interactions with both rappers. “It was amazing,” she said. “She didn't skip a beat or allow it to sidetrack her” when Method Man came calling. Unfamiliar with Killer Mike before the show, she left thinking he “was the most deaf-friendly artist and he really incorporated the interpreters into his performance. We are his new fans.”
Until Bonnaroo, it never occurred to Killer Mike that he had deaf fans; he left the show “honored” to have someone like Maniatty interpreting him. “You wonder how they can even keep up,” he says. “That's an art form; that's more than just a technical skill.”
I've seen interpreters at local events like Webstock, but I can't recall ever seeing it at a concert here. Is anyone doing it? has New Zealand Sign Language been enhanced to take better account of music? Alternatively, is there anyone we could raise some money to get to one of Gallego's camps?
So anyway, there's a ton of ASL on YouTube. This one's topical:
And here's a classic (click through to the clip itself to see the notes on how the words are translated into sign):
A couple of things to keep an eye on during New Zealand Music Month:
And PopLib, who are back again offering a a gem a day for the whole month
If you have a means of watching British television, this new Channel 4 series is really worth a look.
Some local vibes: a first taste of a new Ladi6 album, Royal Blue 3000, which drops on June 2.
The new Dub Terminator album on Soul Island. On your streaming service, but also here in full as a Soundcloud playlist:
A little more of that forthcoming Micronism reissue. I gather Loop got the test pressings of the vinyl this week and were very happy indeed.
And, finally, a pretty epic dancefloor take on Massive Attack's 'Teardrop'. Free download with reasonably little palaver:
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