How would you like to rap alongside Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, or Future? Because that’s what Amber Galloway-Gallego is doing, except she’s doing it with American Sign Language.
Galloway-Gallego, who says she once wished to be the “first white female rapper,” is a nationally certified ASL interpreter with over 14 years of interpreting experience. She translates music into sign language so the deaf community can better enjoy live concerts.
Over the years she’s parlayed this into a career as a kind of arena interpreter for the stars, amassing a resume of over 400 artists ranging from Adele to Billy Joel, Destiny’s Child, the list goes on and across myriad genres.
In addition to expressing the emotion and tonality of the music, she is responsible for interpreting lyrics into ASL, which is more difficult than it sounds.
ASL is its own language with its own rules for grammar — you can’t just take the lyrics of “She Loves You” by The Beatles and sign every word as Paul McCartney sings them. Galloway-Gallego has to actually interpret one language into another, English to ASL.
And that’s where things get difficult. That’s where she has to get creative, i.e. pantomiming a character shooting-up on Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ infamous heroin undercurrent on the hook of “Under the Bridge.”
Below is a Q&A Galloway-Gallego did with SONGLYRICS via email, in which she talks a bit about her process and hopes for the deaf community, followed by a self-produced video of her taking on Eminem‘s “Rap God.”
What were some songs (besides ‘The Monster‘) that were difficult to interpret and why?
“Rap God” was by far the hardest song I have ever had to interpret because of the incredible genius Eminem is, how to make equivalents in ASL, and to truly represent him and his goal for the audience is always a challenge with keeping in mind the sheer speed he raps in that song. It took me two months to break it down. Rap is always a difficult task but I respect the culture and the artist so much that I do not mind doing extra homework.
What is your process for interpreting a song? I imagine each song has its own challenges.
So this is what I typically do. I first research who the artist is. I use several different websites. I then listen to the artist, hear the pace, the way they form words and concepts and then I look at lyrics to make sure I hear it correctly. I am hard of hearing so I have to truly memorize the lyrics. I then take the song and make pictures in my head of what emotions are being evoked, what should each character look like, then deliver that to the Deaf audience.
What do you hope for the future of music accessibility for deaf folks?
That all venues will provide professional music interpreters and stop making Deaf people fight for their basic human rights, which is access to the communication. Deaf people fight daily for access and it has to stop.
Who is your favorite artist to interpret and why?
My favorite artist is whoever I am interpreting at that moment. I have to love them because they are being represented on my hands and the Deaf fans deserve that and so does the artist. [O]n my song list when I am not prepping for a show, you will hear me jamming to Queen Latifah, 2Pac, Melissa Etheridge, Tegan and Sara, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fleetwood Mac … I am extremely eclectic.