• Signmark

It’s all about who you are on the inside

Finnish rap artist Signmark is a living example of the power of believing in your dreams. Already as a boy he decided he would have his own video on MTV one day. Of course, there were many who doubted him, not least because Signmark was born deaf. As it turns out, Signmark has released three albums to date, and his dream has taken him around the world.

Signmark is Marko Vuoriheimo, the first deaf person in the world to have signed a recording contract with an international label. His self-entitled debut album Signmark (2006) was the world’s first rap album in sign language. Since then he has released two more albums: Breaking The Rules (2010) and Silent Shout (2014).

In addition to writing his own rhyming rap lyrics, Signmark also helps compose the music.

“For me the bass is the most important element when making music. I discuss the kind of bass lines I want together with my producer. I also hear some melodies and discuss them too to see which will fit,” Signmark says, describing his music-making process.

Signmark’s lyrics are given voice on his albums by featured artists.

“Once I have written my rhymes, I go through them with the featured artist to make sure the lines can actually be sung and are not too difficult. We also think of the flow,” Signmark adds.

It’s a demanding process, as Signmark likes the lines to rhyme in both spoken language and sign language. In his music videos the artist performs and signs with such a passion that the message comes across clearly. Even though the voice is that of a featured artist, the sound of the song is Signmark’s.

“When a song is ready and the package has been put together, we begin work on making the video. Every song that I record is released also as a music video. Apparently the only other artist in the world to do this is Beyoncé,” Signmark laughs.

Universal interest in his story

His record contract and participation in the qualifying rounds for the Eurovision Song Contest in 2009 brought Signmark to the attention of the general public. The publicity that followed has brought with it many new experiences and challenges.

“I have performed hundreds of gigs in 41 countries around the world. I’ve lost count of how many interviews I’ve done for magazines and TV,” he says, shaking his head in good humoured disbelief.

A deaf rap artist is bound to attract interest wherever he goes. People want to hear what kinds of prejudices or bullying he has had to put up with and how he has managed to hold on to his dream.

“It’s all about who you are on the inside. If you want to realise your dreams, you have work for it,” Signmark says, describing his personal philosophy.

“It takes self-confidence and strong self-esteem. You have to accept that not everything you do will be successful, and when this happens you have to be willing to develop yourself further. You mustn’t let yourself get down or start blaming yourself – you have to move on.”

Alongside his musical career, Signmark is also on the lecture circuit these days, giving inspirational talks to people who are keen to hear more about achieving one’s dreams. He is on the lists of Speakersforum, a company specialised in providing trainers and speakers.

Working together with politicians

Signmark is quick to point out that success also requires networking and cooperation.

“Together you can achieve more, and the end results will be much better,” he says.

This includes working together with the establishment, in this case Finnish politicians. In 2010 Signmark was appointed by former PM Alexander Stubb as a special adviser to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, a position that allowed Signmark to perform his music and represent issues related to the deaf around the world.

“I’ve performed in some of the most unbelievable places, including a gala at an OSCE summit meeting and at UN headquarters!”

Signmark feels strongly that society should treat deaf people as a linguistic minority with its own culture and history.

“We deaf people have so much in common with the Sámi people, for example, with our own language, culture, community and history. We have to fight for our rights, including the right to be served in our own language.”

Text: Karoliina Saarnikko