Stop asking me why deaf people go to music festivals

According to international law, the past May Day holiday should have been screened by music festivals. But right now, most music lovers can only pretend to be there.

Not long ago, the Coachella Music Festival held in the California desert made people drool with anticipation.

Not only are there Bili, The Weekend, Wang Jiaer and other lineup blessings, but also a group of handsome and hot girls walking under the sun and palm trees, the breath of youth and freedom can't wait to penetrate the mobile phone screen in front of you.

▲ 2022 Coachella Music Festival, picture from sfgate.com

The small fresh punch card concave shape, rock electronic music, dance and play pogo, the hormones and restlessness that belong to the scene are probably similar. But few people will notice that unlike domestic music festivals, there are always some "atmosphere groups" dancing on both sides of the stage of American music festivals.

Don't get me wrong, they're not backing dancers, nor are they rambling audience members, but sign language interpreters who help hearing-impaired audience members "hear" the music.

Faster than rapper mouth, more like atmosphere group than atmosphere group

When it comes to sign language translation, you may first think of CCTV news and the love and killing of the host Zhu Guangquan and the sign language teacher.

But if you ask on social platforms such as Twitter and TikTok, netizens will show you the way. The god-like sign language teacher is not on the news channel or meeting with dignitaries. They are all on the scene of the music festival.

They are always full of enthusiasm and firepower. Whether the rocker on the stage is howling, or the rapper challenges the human limit to output hot lyrics, they can complete the translation with super high hand speed, while keeping up with the rhythm and swing of the music.

Holly Maniatty is one of the musical sign language interpreters who have been anointed by social networks.

▲ Maniatty at the Wu-Tang Clan concert

She has nearly 20 years of translation experience and has collaborated with hip-hop celebrities such as Wu-Tang Clan, Jay Z, and Kanye West. The most out of the circle was in 2018, when the live translation of Eminem's "Rap God" directly slayed the audience and caused viral spread.

The song was certified by Guinness World Records as the "Hot Song with the Most Words", with a total of 1560 words in just 6 minutes and 3 seconds. Some netizens joked that Maniatty was as fast as paying tribute to Naruto.

Amber Galloway Gallego has also become a god-level figure in the field with her bright pink hair and passionate performance.

Gallego has been involved in musical sign language translation since 2001. Eminem, Adele, Drake, Lady Gaga, Snoop Dogg and other singers are all her collaborators, and some magazines even called her "the Jay-Z of hip-hop sign language".

In 2019, she stole the limelight from the rapper herself as a sign language interpreter for rapper Twista. Twista was recognized by Guinness World Records as the fastest rapper in history, able to sing 280 words a minute, but Gallego didn't drop the chain at all, but instead brought a blast to the audience.

And Kelly Kurdi became popular because she was straightforward and bold.

Last year's Lollapalooza Music Festival, she translated for Cardi B's live, because the lyrics themselves have some 18 banned content, Kurdi chose to translate it truthfully and show it through action. The video eventually became a TikTok hit, with more than 14 million views in a week.

Maniatty, Gallego, and Kurdi all have professional certifications in American Sign Language (ASL), but unlike everyday sign language interpreters, they all specialize in live music translation.

In addition to translating lyrics in real time and interacting with singers on stage, they are also conveying infectious emotions and rhythms to help hearing-impaired audiences understand the performance. With busy hand movements, in-place facial expressions, and body language swaying with the rhythm, the wonderful music performances can be "heard".

Let everyone "hear" is the new generation of rap

Seeing this, you may be curious: Why do music festivals need sign language interpretation? Do deaf people also go to music festivals? Can they hear music?

If you have seen the movie "Hearing Girl", you should remember this scene – on stage, the heroine is singing lyrical songs with her partner; offstage, her deaf parents and brother are completely inaudible. With a blank face, he looked around, not knowing how to match the beat.

But there is also such a scene in the movie: Dad drives the truck to pick up the heroine from school. The volume of the music in the car is turned up very high. He says, "I like to hear and sing music, and I can feel my whole ass vibrating."

In fact, the hearing impairment of the hearing-impaired population is very varied, and some can hear low-frequency sounds (such as drums and bass), but cannot pick up the relatively high-frequency vocals and guitars. Sometimes hearing aids and cochlear implants can be the solution, but even deaf people with severe hearing loss can capture vibrations through their skin and dance to the beats they feel in their bodies.

In order to better "hear" the music, the hearing-impaired will feel the vibrations from the floor under their feet without shoes; hold a balloon or a half-filled water bottle and capture the rhythm with the palm of their hand; or even stand near the speakers and fully immerse themselves in the in rhythm.

▲ Now some music festivals will also provide "vests" with enhanced vibrations for the hearing-impaired, which can feel live music through chest straps, ankles and wrist straps

Apple Music once invited a number of hearing-impaired people to compose a playlist. Most of their favorites are songs with mid-low frequency and obvious rhythm and rhythm.

But listening to music should not stop at just feeling the vibrational frequency.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was enacted to require sign language interpreters on demand in concerts, gigs, livehouses and other venues. This is the fundamental legal right of the hearing impaired, and it is the main reason why Maniatty and Gallego later had a "place" on both sides of the stage.

▲ The sign language interpreter is on the scene, the picture is from lamag.com

Although the bill was introduced early, for a long period of time, the sign language interpreter hired by the music scene is still similar to the CC subtitles of the movie you watch at home——

They translate the lyric text calmly, but ignore the atmosphere of the song and the instrumental performance, and even tell you that it is "music", "vigorous music" and "sad music" during the interlude.

Gallego, who suffered hearing loss due to spinal meningitis, still remembers her first concert with a hearing-impaired friend as "boring like a city meeting." And because of this, she found her calling.

▲ There are two translation methods: the left side is full of emotion, and the right side calmly tells you that this passage is "music". Which one would you be more attracted to?

People who don't know it may think that sign language is limited to hand movements, but in fact mouth shape, facial expressions and body language are all important components.

Taking a specific track as an example, Gallego translates the lyric text into American Sign Language expressions, uses performance movements to express the sound of the instrument, and changes the position of the hand to show the pitch. Throughout the process, the combination of facial expressions and body language is very helpful in conveying emotional information.

All of this is to provide a "context" for hearing impaired people to understand music.

▲ Playing the air guitar, the basic skills of a musical sign language interpreter

However, completing a live sign language interpretation of music is far more complicated than that. Behind the easy performance on stage, there may be a preparation time of up to 1 month or even 3 months.

Because the live repertoire is likely to be officially finalized 10 minutes before the performance, sign language interpreters like Maniatty and Gallego have to do their homework ahead of time.

They will study the singer's personal experience, cultural background and singing style, and infer the most likely playlist composition based on past performances. Then listen to the song repeatedly, digest the lyrics, understand the creative intention behind it, and then compile a complete sign language translation, and even imitate the singer's own body language.

What follows is a frantic practice of making it all a physical memory. For extremely difficult performances like rap, there are usually two interpreters to cooperate.

▲ Maniatty is at the scene, and sometimes the singer also interacts with the sign language interpreter

Clothing is also an important detail. Because sign language is a visual language, sign language interpreters generally wear simple solid-colored clothing in order to allow the audience to see the gestures clearly.

People with fair skin, like Maniatty, tend to wear black. The black sign language interpreter Matt Maxey , known as the "deaf version of Kanye West" on the right side of the picture below, chose a white T-shirt.

▲ Picture from GQ

To hearing audiences, sign language interpreters at music festivals may be a bit cool/funny/quirky.

But in the eyes of hearing-impaired audiences, they are an important part of the musical charm, strength and resonance.

Sign language isn't "cool," it's a real language

Both Maniatty and Gallego think it's good news for the attention the Internet has brought.

They were interviewed by the media, guested on Jimmy Fallon's "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon", and shared on Ted Talk and other platforms, hoping to inspire more people to become interested in sign language and hearing-impaired people.

Like the listening audience, the deaf audience is also a ticket buyer, they are also fans, and they also want to enjoy a music festival or concert. Alienated by inaudibility for most of their lives, they fight for their rights every day.

▲ In September last year, a hearing-impaired TikTok user cried out that he was denied service, saying that restaurant employees refused to communicate with her with pen and paper, and did not want to take off her mask and let her read her lips

Anabel Maler, assistant professor of music theory at the University of Iowa, has a different view .

She believes that the "deified" short videos that go out of the circle with super fast hand speed and 18 banned movements will actually lead to misunderstandings for the public – people will be amazed at the sign language performance, but it is easy to ignore that this is actually a rich and complex natural language.

Slate.com editor Caroline Zola reflects on the direction of media coverage .

She said that sign language interpreters should be a tool for the hearing-impaired group to enjoy performances, rather than turning the interpreters themselves into performers. The media should pay more attention to the real issues behind discrimination against the deaf, cochlear implants, and the silence of minority groups.

When we use "cool" to describe sign language, we are actually alienating and avoiding it.

Like English, sign language has its own grammatical rules, morphology, semantics, etc. It is not "cool", "interesting" or "brilliant", but a practical and evolving way of communication. It deserves as much respect as any spoken word.

▲ American Sign Language alphabet gestures. Sign language is a very local language, and different countries and regions often have their own sign language systems.

Some netizens also questioned these exaggerated musical sign language translations: How do I know if they are playing tricks?

Deaf netizen Kamp Gumerson said that the current sign language translation in the music field lacks standardization, and the interpreter will interpret the lyrics according to their own understanding of the lyrics. He has seen dozens of musical sign language translations, and can only get 10% to 40% of them.

Lyrics like hip-hop rap have a lot of slang, and it's not easy to get up to speed and translate them properly. In order to better understand the hearing-impaired audience, responsible sign language interpreters often find deaf friends for discussion exercises.

And as sign language interpreting has become standard in the music scene, more and more deaf people are now joining this niche profession. They work on-site with sign language interpreters who can hear music, providing a deeper understanding of the deaf community and outputting expressions that are more in line with everyday use by deaf people.

▲ American Sign Language dancer Raven Sutton reminded that the skin color and cultural diversity of sign language interpreters are also important. Figure from NYTimes

Regardless, the energy that sign language interpreters bring to the music scene is enormous.

Hearing-impaired Becky told Australian media ABC that although she couldn't hear the lyrics, she still enjoyed going to music festivals, especially when there were sign language interpreters who were enthusiastic, fast and fluent.

People often say life without music is unimaginable, and I can't imagine life without sign language interpreters. Their translation made me love music even more!

Kurdi, who has become popular for large-scale translation, also said that it should not be shocking to see sign language interpreters at music festivals or concerts, which should be the norm.

In addition, she also pointed out that the Internet has brought some new possibilities , such as the emergence of platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, allowing hearing-impaired creators to find more space to show themselves.

▲ Domestic Internet platforms are also places for hearing-impaired creators to showcase themselves, such as Xu Min, who likes sign language and rap

This year, "Listening Girl" won the Best Picture at the 94th Academy Awards, and sign language interpreters appeared at the awards ceremony for the first time. Likewise, on the red carpet at the Grammys, Gallego and her mates were hard at work in front of the camera.

All of these are bringing more mainstream attention and wider impact to the hearing-impaired population.

▲ The starring team of the movie "Listening Girl"

Whether it is a sign language interpreter on stage, a hearing-impaired audience off-stage, or a hearing-impaired creator active in music, dance, film and other fields, everyone has the same goal and hope. As Becky put it:

Sign language is a real language, and it shouldn't be an internet spectacle or a joke. It is a reflection of equality to see it appear in more occasions with higher translation quality.

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