The backstage of the main stage is teeming. In a few minutes, one of the most anticipated concerts of the Vieilles Charrues festival will begin in Carhaix-Plouguer (Finistère). Among the managers, dressers, musicians, technicians, two young women are finishing their warm-up. When the Marseille rapper Soprano arrives, Aurélie Nahon and Périnne Diot take the stage; in front of an audience of nearly 80,000 people, they will translate the hour and a half show into sign language and rhythm. This form of artistic expression is called chansigne.
The flow is fast, the rhymes follow one another, the jubilant festival-goers scream at the top of their lungs. Among them, some have their eyes riveted on the left side of the stage: this is where Aurélie and Périnne officiate successively. The two giant screens project their performance several meters high.
Far from the spotlight and the excitement of the festival, the two trained performers met on the benches of the university in Paris. In 2019, with a third friend, Florian Gautrins, they founded 10 Fingers on the Run with the aim of making musical events accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people. Today, eleven singers are part of the collective and translate, most of the time as a duo, multiple events. This year, 10 Fingers on the Run shared the stage with Juliette Armanet, Pierre de Maere and Claudio Capéo…
A growing success with a snowball effect. In France, about seven million people are deaf or hard of hearing, and their accessibility to cultural events is limited. Yet the demand is there. At Les Vieilles Charrues, the five vibrating vests allowing you to feel the sound frequencies in real time have been widely borrowed. “It is very difficult to determine the number of people who benefit from the device, but it is a good way to raise public awareness and encourage other people with disabilities to participate in these concerts”, explains Quentin Sibéril, head of the sustainable development of the festival.
Another string to its bow, the association exchanges regularly with its public on social networks. In February, the energetic sign language translation of a concert by Barbadian singer Rihanna by an American interpreter made the rounds of the world. The video now has millions of views. Both the public and the artists are getting used to the presence of the translators.
More than a translation
On the Glenmor stage at Les Vieilles Charrues, the sequence of the repertoire is very fluid. The singers blend naturally into the general choreography. And it’s not only due to the white jumpsuits lent by the rapper’s team, identical to those of the dancers. Aurélie and Périnne have been preparing the show for months. Learning the texts, translating them into sign language, memorizing and harmonizing everything: “In total, almost three hundred hours of work are necessary upstream”, counts Aurélie. Beyond the lyrics of the songs, the Chansigneuses immerse themselves in the artist’s universe. “Our translations must reflect what it conveys, on stage we adapt our attitude, the expressions of our face…” she continues.
The girls take on a role. “It’s theater, we dive into the universe of the group”, slips Périnne. In rap, there are a lot of references to proper names, to history, and slang words are used. For example, when Soprano celebrates his city with the famous expression “Marseille baby”, known to all his fans, Aurélie translates with a gesture towards the heart: “It means that he has his city in his heart. In sign language, the translation is not literal, we transmit above all the meaning.” In the audience, all ages are represented. “Soprano is a unifying artist, who can bring the whole family together”, explains Quentin Sibéril, at the organization of the festival.
Before leaving the stage, the rapper warmly thanks the two singers. Cheers ring out. Aurélie and Périnne can return to their dressing room satisfied, after a final wave of the hand.
Recipes for success
- Organizer support: The translation of concerts cannot take place without the involvement of venue or festival managers. The communication made by the organizers is essential to attract the target audience.
- Meaning of improvisation: Aurélie and Périnne are professional interpreters. During the concert, they translate the planned repertoire, but they also improvise on the occasion of the artist’s exchanges with his audience, the reactions of the assembly…
- A physical training: Throughout the year, sport is part of the preparation of performers. Bodybuilding, endurance, stretching… Concerts require real physical effort.