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Interpreting pop music for the deaf: Introducing Amber Galloway Gallego

What if there was a way of communicating popular music for the deaf? It might seem far-fetched but that is exactly what Amber Galloway Gallego has dedicated her life to.

(A word of warning for people not overly familiar with Nicki Minaj, what follows is a video of a woman very, effectively, acting out quite a rude song. Headphones are advised.)

In conversation with ABC News, Gallego said that she has been “painting the pictures” rather than simply signing the lyrics of songs. Amber’s back catalogue ranges from Sir Mix-a-Lot’s timeless ode to the booty, ‘Baby Got Back’, to Gwen Stefani’s catchy-as-all-hell exercise in complete gibberish, ‘Hollaback Girl’.

Amber said the inspiration for her work over the last 14 years was her realisation that being deaf does not necessarily exclude people from enjoying a tune:

“I saw these deaf kids and they were dancing all over the place and signing to the music and I was like ‘Whoa, deaf people do love music’,” she said.

As the report states, for people with hearing problems, or for those who are completely deaf, the enjoyment is a more “visceral experience” and has to do with the vibrations caused by heavy bass frequencies, which also explains Amber’s focus on hip-hop and urban music.

Another aspect of Amber’s work is actual linguistic translation; she communicates in American Sign Language. While there may be a conception that sign is a universal language, there are actually distinct variations used throughout the world.

This introduction to the topic suggests that Plains Indian Sign Language, used by Native Americans, was one of the first recognised sign languages, and was important in the development of new ones, although its use is extremely limited today.

It is further suggested that ASL is based closely on the French variety, “Developed by Abbe Charles-Michel de L’Epee during the 18th century”, and then brought to North America in the early 1800s.

While Amber performs regularly at live concerts in the US – having appeared at over 400 shows, ranging from Kendrick Lamar to The Black Keys – her use of ASL means her performances would not translate in Australia, the native sign language here being Auslan, which was developed from educational programs set up in the 1860s.

The issue is that the service being provided by Amber in America is not so common in Australia, meaning local hearing-impaired music fans are limited in what they can experience.

To highlight the cause, and to show her support for an issue that, by its nature, can only be solved on a more local basis – by organisations such as Auslan Stage Left for example – here is Amber performing The Hilltop Hoods’ classic ‘Nosebleed Section’.

About the author

Writer of words. Dreamer of dreams. Leader of men.

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