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The sign language interpreter of the rappers

Stashed in: Hip Hop, @snoopdogg, Freakonomics

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Wow, she has performed over 300 songs:

Just off to the side of the stage, on a raised platform, 36-year-old Amber Galloway Gallego thrust her hands in the air, and twisted her body to the rhythm. Clad in a purple shirt, and sporting a pink-tinted pixie haircut, she was also in the midst of a dream: to make music — particularly rap — accessible to deaf people.

As an American Sign Language interpreter who specializes in music performance, Gallego has interpreted over 300 rap, R&B, and rock concerts, and has worked with everyone from Aerosmith to Destiny’s Child. After a deaf friend told her that “music wasn’t for deaf people,” she embarked on a quest to prove otherwise; today, she’s hired by major music festivals all over the United States to make auditory performances more relatable for the deaf.


“I signed for everyone from Aerosmith, to Lynyrd Skynyrd, to Snoop Dogg,” she says. “Country, R&B, grunge, rap: you name it, I did it.” 

Wow, that's a lot of hard work:

Typically, she’ll be hired to interpret for every artist requested at a given festival. She is rarely ever given a set list in advance, and must memorize every song by those artists — sometimes up to 150 — to ensure she’ll be prepared to sign anything.

The process starts two months before the show. First, she’ll research the artist and hunt down every set list he played over the past five years. She then scans Spotify and iTunes for his most downloaded songs (this gives her a rough idea of the tracks that will, with certainty, be on the playlist). Once she’s done this, she turns to YouTube to watch videos of the performer in action.

“I’m looking for his body movements, and the way he presents himself on stage,” she says, “because as an interpreter, I need to channel that through me.”

Then, the real work begins: she listens to each song, memorizes the lyrics, and makes a “storyboard,” in which she breaks the track down into themes, each with a specific message to convey.

“The hardest person I’ve ever interpreted for is Jack White,” says Gallego. “He has no set list: even his own bands have no idea what they’re performing when they take the stage. And his lyrics are very symbolically dense.”

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