Trailblazer: Magic beat, good music for the deaf

Producer Collins Mutindi. [Courtesy, Standard]

When the Jerusalema dance challenge wave swept across the globe, millions seamlessly jumped into the caravan. But, then there are those that could not hear the catchy lyrics that appear to have taken the world by storm.

“They might not have the privilege of hearing the words, but with a little sign language here, and a beat there, they surely get entertained,” says Collins Mutindi, a producer making music for the deaf.

Mutindi, 33, is one of those trying to change the narrative by making music for the hearing impaired.

“I once sat outside the Kenya National Archives building in Nairobi, and I got to interact with some vendors there. Most of them were deaf and dumb and did not have any form of entertainment. This is where my journey started,” he says.

He has converted a part of his rented house in Nairobi’s Dagoretti into a studio. A section of his bedroom wall, what he calls his small wall of fame, is painted green. This enables him to alter the background when editing the performance of his artists.

On a raised table, are several computers. Two monitors face each other and another one in the centre has the editing sequence on. Under the black table are volumes of completed work.

Unlike producing contemporary music, the heaps of Compact Disks (CDs) took extraneous effort to piece together.

Infusing sign language interpretation, audio and video for the other audience is challenging.

“One of the challenges is getting artistes to record since majority of the deaf community do not know whether there is anyone producing music for them,” he says.

After finding an artiste, Mutindi’s lean team of workers hit the ground running.

“First of all, the artiste (deaf) writes down the lyrics of the song, and hands them over. We then hire someone who interprets the message in sign language before shooting,” he says.

Since not all artistes are good writers, Mutindi has to sometimes write songs for them. This includes weeks of recitals and practice, before the music video is done, shot in two versions.

“One version of the video will be complete sign language, and the other combines sign language and audio with a sign language interpreter at the bottom of the screen, as is on television news,” he explains.

Normally, the artiste would end the production after shooting. But for this kind of music, there is a lot more to be done.

A deaf person has to encrypt the message in the song. He or she works as the pilot audience.

The production budget of one song, Mutindi says, costs an arm and a leg. But he believes the final product is worth anything for it to change the narrative.

“Hiring a sign language interpreter for a song ranges between Sh25,000 and Sh30,000. This is exclusive of the labour costs that run into thousands for the days of recording,” he says.

It costs a minimum Sh110,000 to complete one song. 

To cut costs, Mutindi has incorporated his wife’s aid. Jane Iguri uses her mellow voice to complement the work done by her husband.

“I help infuse voice to the words, apart from playing other assistant roles,” she says.

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Music Deaf