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Deaf rapper Signmark breaks silence after four-year lull

Internationally known Finnish sign language rapper Signmark has released his third album after a four-year hiatus. After cementing his switchover from Finnish to American Sign Language the rapper, originally Marko Vuoriheimo, ventures into uncharted territory with a number in southern Chinese sign language.

Signmark eli Marko Vuoriheimo viittomassa.
Deaf Finnish rapper Signmark continues to speak up for disabled minorities.

Signmark had his breakthrough moment before home audiences in Finland back in 2009 when he performed his beguiling R&B-flavoured hit "Speakerbox" at the national qualifying competition for the Eurovision Song Contest.

Signing in American Sign Language and backed by vocalist Osmo Ikonen and hip-hop artist Brandon Bauer, Signmark placed second, but he created a winning formula for taking his music to global audiences with the help of vocalists and rappers.

Although the group split up, Signmark was taken into the Warner Finland fold to become the first deaf person to sign a deal with an international record label. He describes his music as "party hip hop that stakes a stand".

China an intriguing country

Over the past few years since his last album Signmark has been making his mark on the world stage. During that time he’s become particularly interested in the human rights situation in China and the status of China’s deaf community. His new album offers one song in southern Chinese sign language.

"China is a massive country, where the human rights situation isn't quite right. There are many deaf people there – around ten million. Such an intriguing country arouses many thoughts and ideas. That's why I chose China. Southern Chinese sign language is more modern than northern Chinese," he said in Finnish sign language.

Signmark's new album is self-published, following his break with the record label Warner Finland some time ago. A video from one of the songs off the new album features well-known Finnish faces whom the rapper has met during the course of his career. Among them are former Finnish president Tarja Halonen and International Development Minister Pekka Haavisto.

Human  rights issues still important

The new album "Silent Shout" contains nine tracks and according to Vuoriheimo aka Signmark, is more versatile than his previous offerings.

"I wanted to try a new way to work with different songs. And by using music videos I also wanted to give many others the opportunity to learn sign language too. The music has also changed since I’ve noticed while touring that the songs that go down best with audiences are the ones built on the use of sign language," he explained.

Signmark will publicly launch his new album in Helsinki in about one week. After that he will head to China, where he’ll begin his first concert tour there.

The deaf rapper has been working with the Finnish Foreign Ministry as an ambassador for the rights of the disabled since 2010. He told Yle that although he's committed to his music, he doesn't plan to give up on his advocacy work.

"I want to continue cooperating with the Foreign Ministry, because human rights are close to my heart. I'll continue making music for another two or three years and then I’ll see what the situation looks like," Signmark concluded.

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