World-famous deaf rapper Signmark performs on campus

The event was organized by campus organizations as part of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Day.

Rapper Signmark performs his single

Rapper Signmark performs his single “Against the Wall” on Wednesday in front of Northrop Plaza. Signmark was the first deaf person ever to be signed to a record label.

Colette Bell

The University of Minnesota hosted Signmark, a world-famous deaf rapper, Wednesday as a part of Disability Services’ Deaf and Hard of Hearing Day.

Originally from Finland, Signmark has toured several countries including Japan, Ethiopia and now through the United States.

His first self-titled album was released in 2006. He then placed second in Finland’s 2009 Eurovision Song Contest. After his success at the competition, Warner Music Group signed the rapper as a solo recording artist — the first deaf person to get a record deal with an international label.

Members of the University community will get to experience his music firsthand at a free concert at McNamara Alumni Center at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

Maria Holloway, a staff sign language interpreter, first saw Signmark at an interpreter’s conference this summer. She brought the idea of having him perform on campus to her coworkers, and they worked together to make the concert happen.

“We’re making efforts to make campus more deaf-friendly,” Holloway said. “I thought if we could get an event like this here, it would be an amazing way to bring the deaf community and the hearing community together.”

Signmark writes lyrics that rhyme in both American Sign Language and English. During a performance, he signs the songs while a hip-hop artist raps the songs for the hearing.

Many students, staff and faculty gathered at Northrop Auditorium on Wednesday morning to learn one of Signmark’s hit songs, “Against the Wall,” as a part of a “Silent Shout” — an event where  participants learn a song in ASL and then perform it in a public space. Participants performed the song soon after learning the signs as Signmark stood on the steps of Northrop.

“It brings everyone together as a community,” said Kelsey Bocklund, a kinesiology freshman.

Bocklund, an access assistant for Disability Services, first learned about the event from a coworker.

Many who attended had personal reasons for going.

“I just envy everyone who can [sign]. I think it would be awesome if someday I would be fluent in it,” said Margo Patzer, a Spanish studies senior.

The Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence’s Kids on Campus — a group of elementary and middle school children who come to the University to see the college experience — also visited. The group took advantage of the learning opportunity and stood alongside Signmark on Northrop’s steps throughout the song.

Born as Marko Vuoriheimo into a family of deaf parents and hearing grandparents, Signmark found it difficult to bridge the gap of communication from hearing and deaf family members at a young age.

During Christmas gatherings, his grandparents sung carols while he and his parents watched in boredom. It motivated him to read his grandparents’ lips to learn the words and sign the lyrics to the carols for his parents.

”It was really the first time that I realized that music pulled people together,” Signmark said through an interpreter.