How To Rap With Your Hands

Jun 28, 2013

Holly Maniatty at a Phish concert
Credit Holly Maniatty

When Holly Maniatty, who interprets musical performances into sign language, was preparing for a show with the hip-hop super group Wu-Tang Clan, she studied the movements of each member, studied their biographies, and listened to their music for 50 hours.

So when she interpreted their music at the Bonaroo music festival this month, she animated each of their lines with such precision and emotion that a video of the performance instantly became an Internet hit. Some music blogs said she almost stole the performance.

As Maniatty explains in this conversation with guest host Sean Cole, she wanted to interpret not just the words, but also the delivery. In the Wu-Tang Clan, she says, Method Man bounces back and forth and Ghost Face Killa moves in place.

"You kind of need to breathe the performer into your interpreting when you’re approaching a musician," she says. "If you don’t match what the musician looks like, you haven’t hit that equivalent for a deaf patron."

Maniatty explains how she interpreted words with multiple meanings – like "Brotha" – and tells Sean that she got her start interpreting concerts with a performance with Marilyn Manson. She says she then studied linguistics, American Sign Language poetry techniques, and says there’s a difference between interpreting for Eminem and Jay-Z.

Hear the full conversation at The Story's site. Also in this show: Rachel Zeffira may have the voice of an angel, but it took a little fib for her to sing during mass at the Vatican.