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News, 11/4/2008

Signmark does what he wants

By Jemina Juuti/Virtual Finland

Signmark, the first deaf rapper, is changing the world by rapping in sign language. He doesn't shy away from taking a stand on human rights and tolerance.  

Signmark on kuuro räppäri.The world's first deaf rapper: Signmark creates rhymes in sign language. Photo: Signmark

Marko Vuoriheimo, 30, better known as Signmark, began making music as a child by interpreting Christmas carols for relatives with hearing disabilities. In 2006, he released the world's first rap album by a person who is deaf, and right now he's working on a second album, this time in English.

 Gigs around the world

Signmark's popularity extends from his home country of Finland to arenas in Germany, England and Austria. In Japan he appeared in a live broadcast for an audience of millions – all this in a field where competition is tight, even for people with no hearing disability. And he has a full schedule at his "day job", too. Signmark, who possesses a master's degree in educational science, teaches sign-language interpreters at the University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki, and has also published an autobiography.

The artist describes his creations as light but thoughtful party music. He believes that people with hearing disabilities should not be treated as disabled, but rather as part of a linguistic minority with its own culture and history. Hip-hop, multicultural form of music-making, represents an excellent forum for Signmark's boundary-breaking messages. Deaf people can enjoy the music and those who can hear find a new rap music experience in Signmark's visual performance.

How does it work?

 Signmark begins by using giant headphones to listen to music made by a friend, evaluating its feeling and tempo. He concentrates on the rhythm of the bass, creating background music and honing the results. Signmark's group includes Mahtotapa (Heikki Soini) and Sulava (Kim Eiroma), who spins the records. When he raps in English, Signmark goes by another stage name: Brandon.

Signmark räppää kavereiden kanssa.Loud and clear: Signmark (centre) makes music together with Sulava (Kim Eiroma, left) and Mahtotapa (Heikki Soini). Photo:signmark

Raps in sign language rhyme just as spoken words do. The performer signs in rhythm, and the final syllables of each line are formed by similar hand shapes and signs. The bass line represents the most important element for deaf rappers, since it helps them follow the flow of the music and rhythm. Facial expressions support the signing and improvisation forms an intrinsic part of the process. Put this all together onstage and you've got a show that's not to be missed.

With a long list of achievements already under his belt, the ambitious Signmark shows no indication of slowing down. That's not what he's about.

Check out the Signmark website

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Updated 11/4/2008

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