- Associated Press - Sunday, May 11, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) - Amber Galloway Gallego was in bed when a friend texted her: “Turn on Jimmy Kimmel.”

“I was like, ‘Why?’” said Galloway Gallego, who lives in Houston. Then she flipped on the late-night talk show and saw herself on TV.

Kimmel was showing a clip of Galloway Gallego on stage at Lollapalooza, dancing and doing sign language as rapper Kendrick Lamar rapped expletives. An audience member had captured about a minute of her performance, shaky camera and all, and posted it on YouTube.

In the nine months since that Chicago music fest, Galloway Gallego’s sign-language spectacle has been viewed about 4 million times on YouTube. With a rapper’s swagger, she lets it fly, signing rapid-fire lyrics and dirty words that look like dirty words. Her performance is lewd. It is startlingly, hilariously cool. It’s also her job.

Galloway Gallego, an American Sign Language interpreter who specializes in music, has done the same thing at hundreds of concerts. She’s hired to stand at the side of the stage and interpret Madonna and Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga and Rage Against the Machine for deaf audience members. She works South By Southwest every year, and she’s in high demand at music festivals such as Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza.

“I don’t play anything. I don’t sing. But I can sign really well, and I have good rhythm and I love music,” she told the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1orKb01).

She wants to share that love with people who can’t hear it for themselves. Galloway Gallego’s interpretations are full-body physical. She moves to give a sense of the beat and what’s happening in the music. If there’s a guitar solo, she plays air guitar. If keyboards are driving the melody, she’ll play chords on an imaginary keyboard. And when the lyrics begin, she shares both the words and the meaning, acting it out with full emotion as she translates.

“Music does something to my soul,” she said. “I feel like if we’re not able to show that, then what are we doing up there interpreting?”

Galloway Gallego, 37, didn’t plan to become an interpreter. When she was a kid, she wanted to be a rapper. “I was from the hood” in San Antonio, she said. “Rap music was a huge part of my life.” She’d write her own rhymes and dream of being on stage.

She also was learning sign language from an early age.

When Galloway Gallego was 5, her father dated a woman whose son was deaf. “He taught me my first signs,” she said. A few years later, she was cared for by a baby sitter who had two deaf children. In high school, she was a trainer for the football team when a deaf player tore his ACL and needed therapy. And a couple of years later, when she herself needed therapy after a car accident, her roommate at the rehab hospital was deaf.

“It’s funny,” Galloway Gallego said, “to have all those incidences happen to you and still not realize your life’s purpose.”

When she enrolled at St. Philip’s College in San Antonio with plans to become a physical therapist, Galloway Gallego became friends with the deaf community there. One night at a party, Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” came on the stereo, and she spontaneously got up to interpret.

“I was doing it with all the movements and the rhythm,” she said, “and I was dancing and signing, and one of my deaf friends said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m interpreting music.’ She said, ‘I’ve never seen music like that before.’”

It was an off-the-cuff interpretation, but it looked like nothing any of Galloway Gallego’s deaf friends had ever seen.

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