Rapping silently for equality

Finnish rap artist Signmark performing at the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York ©UN Photo/Nenad VasicFinnish rap artist Signmark, the first deaf musician to sign a record deal with a major music label, performed in New York on 17 April at a UN-supported public event.

At the Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza just around the corner from UN headquarters, people gathered to see the rapper in the first of two performances dubbed “Silent Shout”. The second performance took place inside the UN. 

The performances aim at promoting the human rights of people with disabilities. Performing in American Sign Language, with fellow artist Brandon Bauer providing vocal interpretation, Signmark invited the audience to sing and sign along.

Signmark, who was born deaf, said that his message was to push past obstacles in following one’s dreams.

 “When I was a kid probably like nine or ten years old, there [were] people around me that didn’t believe in me, I had teachers around me who were laughing at me; people would be like, ‘you don’t understand that you’re deaf’,” he said. “You know, they kept telling me that I’m deaf. Deafness and music, they always said that they didn’t come together.”

Confounding the sceptics, the 34-year-old rapper has since become the first deaf artist to sign a record deal with a major label – Warner Music – and has performed in over thirty countries including Japan, the U.S., Australia, Iceland, China and Ethiopia.

At Silent Shout events, organized flash mob-style, Signmark teaches the audience the American Sign Language for the chorus of one song. At today’s performances, he chose the song “Back Against the Wall”.

 “One of the most important things that I pay attention to is making sure that people have fun, because you see that people have already left, but they’re actually going to be sharing their experiences by using their words about what they saw and with music, it’s kind of like breaking through the wall. I think that’s important,” Signmark told UNifeed, the UN’s video news service, after his performances.

Signmark, whose real name is Marko Vuoriheimo, is on tour in the United States until 3 May.

The New York performances, supported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations, were part of a campaign to promote the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Watch the UNTV feature on Signmark, filmed during his tour in the United States.


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