Tasmin Kurien makes sign language covers of popular English songs

Tasmin Kurien is seen performing to the sound track ‘Pray For Me’ from The Black Panther in one of her recent videos on YouTube. As she spells out the lyrics in sign language, she also moves her body to the rhythm. “I have done four covers in sign language, one every week, in the last month,” says Tasmin, a post-graduate student of Social Work at Madras Christian College.

Her other covers are on ‘Iris’ by GooGoo Dolls covered by Breaking Benjamin and Diamante, ‘We Are The Champions’ by Queen and ‘Alone (part II)’ by Alan Walker. “The Black Panther song took a while because of the speed of the signs. But, it was worth it as it was a perfect tribute to Chadwick Boseman. Putting myself out there as a solo performer in American Sign Language(ASL) was the scary part,” declares Tasmin, adding that she gave it a shot to get rid of her fear of the screen.

A recent webinar at her college set her thinking about sign language. “It was on human rights. One of the participants asked why there were no sign language interpreters to make it accessible to people with disabilities. When we started looking for interpreters for other webinars, we realised that Indian Sign Language (ISL) is different, for example a Tamil ISL is not the same as Hindi ISL. For national webinars we needed more than one interpreter and we couldn’t proceed with it.”

One sign, one song

When Tasmin signed up for a course in ASL, she recorded a song for every new sign she learnt. “It helped me sustain. When I learnt signs like ‘…Champions’ and ‘Alone’, I connected it with the songs though I didn’t know many other words. It was spontaneous.”

A still from one of her videos

The videos, she says, are made in Pidgin Signed English (PSE), a combination of ASL and English. “I grew up in Singapore and have been here only for the last eight years. I know a little bit of Malayalam, Hindi and Tamil but not well enough to learn it in sign language and that’s why I chose English.”

At some point, Tasmin plans to use her skills professionally. “I am especially keen on working with children who have intellectual disabilities. As of now, I want to continue to make music covers. It connects with people and is motivating.”

Tasmin is also inspired by Amber Galloway Gallego’s videos, especially her ASL cover on Sia’s ‘Cheap Thrills’. “She is my idol. Gallego pulls out beats from the songs and shows them in signs which is amazing. Her entire body is attuned to the music. That’s what I am aspiring to do in future.”

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