Amber Galloway Gallego sings alongside musician Wiz Khalifa, keeping pace with his lyrics and mood.

As a hip-hop artist, Twista is hard to listen to. The man raps at 280 words a minute – faster than anyone, ever. Enough of those are B words, C words, N words, F words, M words, S words and D words that I’m glad my ears can’t keep up.

This is what makes Amber Galloway Gallego a singular genius. The American Sign Language interpreter can move her hands to sign fast enough to match his speeds. Even better, when she’s hired to sign live at his gigs (to make concerts more accessible for the disabled), she isn’t just using her hands. She puts her whole self into interpreting every explicit term and X-rated idea.

One clip, of her signing Twista’s song Gucci Louis Prada alongside him at an Illinois gig in August, has gone viral. Keep your ears and eyes peeled. Galloway Gallego is lightning fast, her fingers a blur, her moves conveying not just what’s being rapped, but the mood and metaphors too. Her body follows the beat. She wiggles her butt. She matches the words to expressions. There are microseconds of suggestive gestures. She steals the show – even Twista tweeted that she was “the real MVP for keeping up wit me”.  [embedded content]

Why bother watching when you don’t understand sign language and can hear just fine? Because Galloway Gallego’s interpretation is often a performance in itself. She’s signed for everyone from Elton John, Lady Gaga and Cher to Eminem, The Rolling Stones, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Snoop Dogg. And much of those interpretations are on YouTube.

Watch them on mute if you like. You’ll see her sway, look menacing, close her eyes in bliss, lick her fingertips, make a rude gesture and even indicate when an instrumental section comes on. You’ll know exactly what she’s trying to convey – and often you’ll be moved in a way you’d never get from the sound alone. At one 2013 concert, when she was signing for Kendrick Lamar’s rendition of F**kin problems, she even went ahead and mimicked something very suggestive involving the male anatomy – I’ll let you discover it yourself.  [embedded content]

She’s signing too fast for any of this to be titillating, and deaf fans confirm that her grammar and syntax are flawless. They also say that the live signs allow them to follow the songs and understand what the words might actually mean – without censoring material for adult audiences.

Galloway Gallego, 42, has been interpreting concerts since 2001. She was born hard of hearing, and her degenerative condition means she’ll lose her hearing eventually. Until then, she’s making the most of her senses and skills. I recommend that you make the most of her interpretations. Twista, meanwhile is working on rapping even faster.

First Published: Sep 14, 2019 17:28 IST


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