CHICAGO -- Recent viral videos capturing sign language interpreters onstage with huge acts like Kendrick Lamar and Iggy Azalea have proven that the interpreters' abilities can be awe-inspiring. But a chat I had with one of the leaders in the field -- she's the one in those viral Iggy and Kendrick vids -- reveals something deeper: The need for the larger music community to value these jobs.
"[Artists] have to care about their deaf community, too," explained Amber Galloway Gallego, who interpreted for everyone from The Weeknd to Charli XCX to Tove Lo to Metallica when I sat down with her at this year's Lollapalooza. "Because those are also ticket-buyers; they are also fans. The deaf concertgoers, they want to also have access. And so much of their life is not accessible. They're fighting everyday for access."
Galloway Gallego became certified 15 years ago, something she was inspired to do after attending a concert with her spouse at the time -- who is deaf -- and seeing the way the deaf community did (and didn't) engage with what was going on onstage.
"I was bored out of my mind," she told MTV News on Saturday (August 1). "They weren't showing what music looks like. I was watching the deaf community, and I realized that they were not involved either. They were talking to each other."
Disappointed with the experience and the interpreters that she saw, Amber took it upon herself to up the ante, and has since created a unique style that incorporates non-manual markers -- like facial expressions and body movements -- with a deeply studied understanding of songs to convey the music and messages to onlookers.
"Music is more than words," she said. "And the problem is that the interpreters, for a long time, have just focused on the words -- and not a thought about all the other layers that come with it to actually make it equivalent. I show all the instruments, because they need to be able to see the riffs. So, it's kind of like using onomatopoeia in sign language. It's not only words -- it's also all the different layers."
Now with 10 years of festival experience on her resume in addition to her own agency, Amber G Productions, plus frequent workshops, gigs on cruises and speaking engagements at colleges, Amber is a seasoned vet. But it still takes tedious prep work of up to three months spent studying past set lists, digesting lyrics, creating storyboards and diving into artists' histories in order to be ready for concert day.
"Sometimes we get [the set list] five minutes before [going onstage]," she said, offering a revealing fact about the value placed on the position and the lack of communication between artists and interpreters.
"If a deaf person was to win a ticket for [a concert] that weekend coming up, most likely, they're probably not going to get interpreters. And they're going to go to a concert that they can't hear. Because facilities don't want to pay for interpreters. Facilities don't want to provide."
It's a problem, yes -- but not one without a solution, she says.
"If the artists actually looked at that and said, 'Hey, let's make a budget line for interpreters, and make sure that there's access for the deaf community,' it's a done deal. But a lot of times they don't. So deaf people don't have equality. It's not equal access at all.
"I try to tell facilities, 'If you were to provide all the time, deaf people would have 100% access. They wouldn't have to fight for an entire month. If you just made it on the budget line, and made sure there were interpreters.' Most of the time, hearing people are enjoying it, too. It also piques their interest into learning sign language. So the more people that learn sign language, based on whatever video that goes viral, that's more access to the deaf community, and that's more of us coming together as one human race."