The star who went viral after the Bonnaroo Music Festival wasn't any of the headliners -it was the woman who danced along with them. Holly Maniatty is a sign language interpreter, a professional who works all kinds of concerts. Rap shows are a special challenge as the words fly fast and are often freestyle, wandering far from the recorded version. Maniatty holds her own interpreting on the fly, but she also does plenty of research beforehand. She talked about her first rap show, for the Beastie Boys in 2009.
To prepare for the show, Maniatty says she logged more than 100 hours of research on the Beastie Boys, memorizing their lyrics and watching past shows. Her prep work also includes researching dialectal signs to ensure accuracy and authenticity. An Atlanta rapper will use different slang than a Queens one, and ASL speakers from different regions also use different signs, so knowing how a word like guns and brother are signed in a given region is crucial for authenticity.
Signing a rap show requires more than just literal translation. Maniatty has to describe events, interpret context, and tell a story. Often, she is speaking two languages simultaneously, one with her hands and one with her mouth, as she’ll sometimes rap along with the artists as well. When a rapper recently described a run-in with Tupac, Maniatty rapped along while making the sign for hologram, so deaf fans would know the reference was to Tupac’s holographic cameo at Coachella, not some figment of the rapper's imagination.