River Lea: An Audio Free ASL Music Video that is the first ASL Music Video of its kind to offer audio-free soundtrack. The performers names in alphabetical order are: Cesar Ayala, Moní Brown, Alise Harding, Tonique Hunter, Kayleigh Ann Marshall, Jonathan Reynolds and Justin Reynolds.

A First of It’s Kind

With most music videos, you expect to hear the music while you’re watching the video.

With ASL music videos, you get an ASL translation of that specific song so you can experience the song without missing any of the lyrics. However, an audio-free ASL Music video takes you to a whole new area that hasn’t really been expanded on before.

In the making of River Lea, a full cast of seven Deaf performers got together as a collaborative all-volunteer project. They are the first of their kind to have a full-cast of seven Deaf performers signing and dancing to an audio-free soundtrack.

In honor of Black History Month

According to Brandon Kazen-Maddox, this project has been a yearlong endeavor that started in February of 2015. Brandon felt that beginning of this month, in honor of Black History Month, was the perfect time to release the video for viewing of the public. He also stated that he, “to provide strength and solidarity to all Americans who are experiencing the tragedy of our current political status. [We] must remain united and remember that no institution, regime nor one individual has the power to take away our identity.”

For those who don’t know, this video was filmed in San Francisco, CA and this team also wanted to share their response to the massive displacement of resident/artists that has occurred over the past few years that has resulted in rocketing rising of rent cost and the issue of gentrification.

By picking the song River Lea, they wanted to show the raw emotion that how they felt with everything that has been going on in the last year. The change of political ideology. The disruption of their lives with gentrification.

Everybody tells me it’s ’bout time that I moved on
And I need to learn to lighten up and learn how to be young
But my heart is a valley, it’s so shallow and man made
I’m scared to death if I let you in that you’ll see I’m just a fake
Sometimes I feel lonely in the arms of your touch
But I know that’s just me, ’cause nothing ever is enough

Kayleigh Marshall, one of the dancers/signers in the video told us that this video was important to her, “My mom taught me sign language from when I was a baby into my childhood, and my parents wished for me to experience both worlds, so they provided me resources to learn how to speak and sign. Even though I use spoken language on a daily basis, sign language is still precious to me and necessary. It’s such an important way to express yourself, to communicate, and to bond with others”.

Director of Photography Nick Kasimatis, told us that in this video, he wanted to convey, “support [Brandon] his efforts to push cultural boundaries and open new forms of expression and he hopes that the video touches people on an emotional level”.

Tonique Hunter, believes that sign language is a beautiful language and she wanted to share that the movement themselves are natural and to show people who are deaf/hard of hearing that they can be confident in themselves when it comes to expressing their own ideas. It is her hope that, “hearing people will see this video and feel inspired by audio-free music video”.

Ms. Marshall describes her experiences with even more elaborate details, “This experience was a major step out of my comfort zone. I often feel uncomfortable signing in front of fellow deaf individuals and overthink how I communicate. The group of performers opened my eyes and embraced me and my signs. They challenged me in pushing my discomfort away and have fun. Brandon helped me by allowing me to give inputs on what signs resonated with me for the lyrics.”

She also added, “I hope people realize there is #deaftalent, and it exist in many ways, artistically and educationally and other ways too! This project was an expression for why sign language is important for individuals, deaf families, and hearing families. I want people to see the cohesiveness of races, gender, LGBTQIA, and deaf performers, with different styles of signing, and with CODA/GODA artists to create a community and produced a product that we’re all proud of.”

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Thomsen Young

Founder of SG