Sign language and interactive vests: S’pore deaf community members praise inclusive Coldplay concerts


Singapore sign language interpreters Shawn Fang (left) and Daniel Yong at Coldplay's concert at the National Stadium. - @NEILENORE

SINGAPORE: When Coldplay singer Chris Martin performed two of the British band’s songs in Singapore Sign Language (SgSL) at their ongoing National Stadium concerts, the results were not perfect. But Lily Goh, the Singaporean deaf artiste who made a video of Something Just Like This (2017) in SgSL for the 46-year-old frontman to follow, says she “closed one eye” and still sees it as a win for the deaf community.

“It is not very accurate, but only deaf signers can tell. It is like having a singer who lip-syncs while having someone singing for the singer behind the curtain – it looks fake,” she tells The Straits Times.

“My main concern is cultural appropriation. Deaf culture is being appropriated if a hearing person has no connection or links to the deaf community.”

The 44-year-old adds: “But this is more than just Chris following my video or appropriating sign language while performing on stage. It is about giving us an immersive and inclusive experience. I am grateful to Coldplay for it.”

In what is believed to be the first for a major pop concert in Singapore, Coldplay’s six nights of concerts at the National Stadium – which kicked off on Jan 23 and run until Jan 31 – boasted a special zone for fans from the deaf community and sign language interpreters.

These audience members, up to nine on Jan 29, were also given Subpacs, an interactive vest that allows the deaf and hard of hearing to feel the music through vibrations. The screens on stage would also flash lyrics.

To make their shows as inclusive as possible, Coldplay’s global tour accommodates not just fans who are deaf and hard of hearing, but also provides sensory bags and a mobile sensory refuge station for those with sensory sensitivities.

The quartet also offer pre-show touch tours for fans who are blind or have low vision.

“It is really amazing,” says Goh. “I often see such videos of other concerts from the United States and United Kingdom and, sometimes, I ask myself, ‘When will it be Singapore’s turn?’”

Martin has been known to perform songs in the local sign language during Coldplay’s Music Of The Spheres World Tour, which started in March 2022 and is expected to run until November 2024. Most countries have their own versions of sign language.

Besides Something Just Like This, Martin also performed Hymn For The Weekend (2015) in SgSL, guided by a video made by Singaporean deaf artiste Shariffah Faaiqah.

In the special zone, three freelance Singapore sign language interpreters were at the shows – Daniel Yong, 24; Shawn Fang, 29; and Azzam Akbar, 29.

The three-man team was hired by local concert organiser Live Nation and engaged Goh and Shariffah as consultants.

Two of them would be there at each two-hour gig, one to interpret the lyrics and the other to interpret the instruments, mood and energy of the songs.

Videos of them doing sign language at the concerts went viral on social media over the weekend, prompting many to praise their passionate performances.

While they have provided sign language interpretation services for theatre performances – Yong has also participated in previous National Day Parades – nothing beats the scale of the Coldplay concerts.

A few days before the first show, the trio spent one sleepless night – from 9pm to 11am – learning and interpreting Coldplay’s set list. While they do not consider themselves die-hard fans, they are familiar with the more popular hits.

Yong had to put in more effort on songs from their latest album Music Of The Spheres (2021) because he had not listened to most of them prior to getting the interpreting gig.

“It is more than just literal translations of the lyrics. What we want to do is paint a holistic picture of what the soul of a concert is,” says Fang, who first started signing eight years ago and has been interpreting for six.

“What we’re trying to do is give deaf people full access to the experience of the concert,” adds Yong, who has been signing for eight years and started interpreting five years ago.

And members of the community who attended are grateful for such touches. One of them is Ms Roseanne Loo, who says adding interpreters made her feel included.

“I’m not very fond of going to concerts, but when I heard there were interpreters provided, I didn’t hesitate to attend. I love how the interpreters put their emotions into their song signing. It deepened my connection to the music,” adds the 35-year-old assistant manager.

Amirul Afiq Rozlan, a 23-year-old student, never expected to be able to experience a live concert that provides interpreters and Subpacs on home ground.

“The vibrations are synced with the music beats and the amazing interpreters performed very well. It enhanced my mood.”

Coldplay fan Lim Jia Yi was moved to tears. The 33-year-old facility executive has profound hearing loss in both ears and wears hearing aids.

The noise from the crowds at concerts usually drowns out the performers, so having interpreters and Subpacs helped her enjoy her favourite Coldplay songs, such as Yellow (2000) and The Scientist (2002).

“The experience was so mind-blowing and magical,” she gushes.

Goh hopes that there will be more inclusive concerts in Singapore in the future and that the Coldplay shows are not just a one-off.

“In the US and Europe, deaf artistes and hearing interpreters work together to make music accessible and inclusive for the deaf and hard of hearing.” - The Straits Times/ANN

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