In another eye-opening entry of The Cultural Reset’s Artist Interview Series, TCR’s Nick Lee and Shay Ervin, sat down with Rapper/ASL Interpreter/Tarot Reader Chris Corsini, AKA MDL CHLD, to chat about music inclusivity for Deaf audiences. In an incredibly compelling discussion, Chris opens up about his efforts to create art with Deaf people in mind, his mission to revolutionize the industry for Deaf music-lovers, and the industry disparities that exclude the Deaf from fully enjoying live music performances.
Photo: "MDL CHLD"
Click here to listen to MDL CHLD FULL INTERVIEW
Nick Lee: Hello, everybody, welcome to another episode of the cultural reset. We are here with an incredible artist. Do you mind introducing yourself?
MDL CHILD: Yeah, my name is Chris Corsini. And as you just said, I'm an artist. I do a lot of different things.
Shannon Ervin: Can I just say, I'm really excited for this interview both for our website to be able to become more ASL accessible, but also for other people to learn about what it's like to be Deaf and love music.
N: Absolutely. So Chris, let’s start off with the standard question that we asked all of our artists: When and where did your individual creative journey begin?
M: First, I’d like to back up and clarify that I am not Deaf and I don't identify as Deaf. I do have a lot of Deaf friends and I work with a lot of Deaf people. So I just wanted to clarify that before we jump in!
My artistic journey started in college when I was actually taking an ASL interpreting program at Georgetown College in Toronto. And I was really in a dark stage of my life. I’d turned to music to get that energy out. And then everything from there just started to expand as I continued to work in performance art, interpreting profession and doing concerts. It started around 2010 or 2009. It's been a while.
S: Did you start by writing your own lyrics? Did you start with instruments? What medium did you start with?
M: I actually started using an app on my phone, because I saw my friend and his cousin was using machine software—like a soundboard. I was really interested in it, but at that time, I couldn't afford to buy one. So they had an app and I downloaded the app to my phone and I started just playing with it. To this day, I still use that app to develop a lot of my music. My recent release from a couple months ago called Mama, I made on that app. I just started playing with it back when I started and then I was like, “Oh my god, I'm really good at doing this.” Then I started playing with lyrics and just writing and seeing whatever came up and I'm a Gemini so I'm born to communicate! I'm really good with words and language. So it just kind of like came out and happened.
S: What's the name of the app?
M: It's called Maschine. You can download different sound bites and packages with different drum kits and guitar and piano. Everything! At that time, I was using the bus a lot and using the subway, so every time I would just sit down for 30 minutes and just start playing with music. And then by the time I got to school, and then back home, I would have like the start of a song finished. So it's really easy to play with and just have some fun.
S: So you naturally have a taste for music and being able to just play with it.
M: I'm doing a lot of theater and I was a competitive dancer for a long time. So I think that also helps with the sign language and the body movements. And now I work with Deaf artists and they themselves dance, so I teach them how to dance and then I include ASL into the dance. And then they help me clarify and tweak the ASL. When we do live performances, I rap and sign and, at the same time, the two Deaf performers are beside me and the three of us are dancing. ASL is in the dance movement so it's accessible and entertaining—it looks really cool. I have some videos of that online from a performance I did back in Toronto before I moved to Europe. And yeah it's really cool. And then of course the pandemic screwed everything up. So just as we were developing that and really figuring it out, it got thrown on pause, unfortunately. But when I can, hopefully, get my Deaf friends to come to visit me in Europe, we're going to film something with that dance movement because it looks amazing.
Photo: "MDL CHLD"
"...my goal is trying to reshape music and accessibility and I need Deaf people to work with me..."
N: That's so revolutionary. The music industry is not inclusive of Deaf artists at all, because there is this inherent perception that Deaf people don't like music. Which doesn't make any sense.
S: It’s also very artistic. Sign language in and of itself feels like a dance. How do you make music for Deaf people? I've heard things here and there, but I'd like you to answer that just so that our listeners and our readers know.
M: Honestly I would always suggest hiring a Deaf person as a consultant and really asking for the Deaf perspective, because they're an expert in their language and their culture. But I do have experience working with the Deaf community for over a decade. And before that I was studying for five years. So l do have a lot of experience in this field and I've noticed that, if it's going to be a live performance, you're going to want to add more bass because they can feel the vibrations. For my own concerts, I would personally stand in the middle of the stage and have two Deaf performers on either side of me. So I'm in the middle, and then two Deaf performers that are using ASL, dance and perform. And then, what our plan was before everything kind of became chaotic through 2020, was that our live performances, we would have added bass. And then you can also use these vests that connect to Wi-fi/Bluetooth. And the vests vibrate and match the music. So when you're playing a hi-hat, it's like a lighter vibration up top. And when you hear the low end, it's like a thicker vibration on the bottom. So Deaf people can really feel the experience on their body, which is really important to them.
At the moment, I'm not writing music with Deaf people, although I'm chatting about that with one of my performers from Toronto, because she's really interested in writing music. So we're trying to figure out how we can collaborate on an actual song. But normally, I just do my own creative journey with the music creation and then afterwards, I'll contact my Deaf team and we’ll come together. I’ll show them my ASL interpretation of the music and then they act as Deaf coaches and consultants. And we tweak it together. And then when we decide on the sign language, we create the movement with the ASL. So ASL interpretation and sign language is added later. But the actual process of developing the music itself is still just my own unique artistic journey.
N: So in a way, you're an artist that's taking a step towards broadening the definition of inclusivity because you are creating your art yourself—and it's your vision—but you're taking that extra step before release to consult a team of Deaf people to make it more accessible.
M: Exactly! I actually met my lead Deaf consultants when I was interpreting a Jay Z concert. She was one of the people who bought a ticket. We invited her in to consult us on the performance interpretation and she was really impressed with our performance interpretation. And then that day of the actual concert, she was there. And she had four friends, I believe, and they all were like, “Oh my god, this is amazing” because they’d never seen that kind of thing happen live—especially in Canada. The majority of concerts were getting interpreted in America and that hadn’t really started in Canada yet. So they were flabbergasted with the opportunity for access.
After that concert, my friend Gayatri approached me and told me “This is amazing! We need to figure out how to work together!” And that summer at Toronto Pride, I was asked to perform, adn I asked them to come join me on stage and figure it out. And that was in either 2017 or 2018. That was the first time we connected and then moving forward, every time I wanted to do something, I just knew I could rely on her and she knows that she can rely on me and we just support each other. We both understand the importance of collaboration. I actually had gotten a lot of no’s from the Deaf community saying that it wasn’t my place to interpret music, and I understand that because on YouTube, you find a lot of people who have no idea about Deaf culture, they have no training, they've gone to no programs, and they're just doing it for clout and attention trying to grab an audience. So I understand that perspective; but my goal is trying to reshape music and accessibility and I need Deaf people to work with me and Gayatri loved that idea. She saw my skill set and I saw her skill set and from that day she's been involved in a lot of my stuff. She's an amazing artist.
S: That’s such a great connection to make. When I was listening to music and watching your music videos, I noticed that your songs themselves are accessible in the fact that your songs and rhythms are very alike. You can feel them in your body. You can feel how to dance to it. Also when you put your lyrics into your music videos, it's very animated. It's not just subscript; the music is coming in with the beat that you're feeling.
M: And that's interesting, because I did find that there was a big challenge with some Deaf people saying feeling that the captions are too fast and that they couldn’t read them. And its because I’m rapping really fast. I think it's important that there is an accurate representation of the words, I don't want to just add captions that are at the bottom and boring. I want Deaf people to be like, oh wow there's so much happening! It's artistic! it's creative. And again, that's me really sort of testing out that approach. I will wait for some more feedback to see if that's a good approach or a bad approach. But I've also heard from a lot of Deaf people that they loved it. That they thought it was really cool to see it all more exciting than just boring and across the bottom. I really try to equally match the approach. So if I'm rapping fast, then the lyrics are going to come up fast, because that's how it sounds. And I want it to be an equal representation.
S: So one of the questions that we normally ask is, what is your mission with your art? I feel like the obvious one is making it accessible and showing other creatives and people in general how easy it is to include Deaf people. But do you have another mission with your art?
M: Yeah, so there's two things. The first thing is that the art itself is accessible. We want it to be diverse and inclusive—and that doesn't only mean on camera for the world to see. I also always try to include Deaf people behind the camera. So for my recent song and music video, #Don'tFuckWithYou (#DFWY), we had a Deaf videographer and she also helped with some of the editing. It's really important to have both color and accessibility and inclusivity behind the scenes and in front of the camera.
Of course, second to that. I'm also a tarot card reader. I do Full Moon/New Moon workshops and I'm an energy healer. So the goal is to attract a lot of people with inclusive and really cool art, music, and videos. And then when I get their attention, I can tell them to go watch their monthly horoscopes. And then if they feel drawn to a moon workshop, they can take a workshop. And then I can start helping people figure out how to balance their energies, how to let go of their traumas, and how to let go of their heartbreaks. For the longest time, I always just thought that if Beyonce for example, were telling her fans or followers to take a moon workshop twice a month, the energy shift as a collective that we would experience just from people having those accessible and affordable resources to actually change and improve their lives that is a huge impact.
So yeah, the first thing is accessibility and diversity in front and behind the camera, of course, but also to bring people into using the available resources that I have for them—and a lot of them are either free or, like my workshops, are ‘pay what you can’.
N: I love that you're trying to make the industry more accessible in that capacity. I also wanted to ask you about what your experience has been like behind the scenes. What have you seen in your time in the music industry? Are there any instances of inclusion of Deaf people behind the scenes?
S: Or queer, I would say because you are for yourself, right?
M: Yeah, I’m a gay man.
S: How has that experience been as well?
M: I didn't really see much access for the Deaf community when I was in Toronto. I did see it for appointments, schools, etc.—they have access, or at least most places are trying and if they're not trying, they're attempting to implement something. So that is somewhat progressive, but specifically the arts community? Maybe theater itself—actual plays and stuff like that. I've interpreted a lot of theater. But when I was trying to find people to collaborate with for music, I really found that after I started doing my concerts, and including deaf performers, in Toronto, I could only name like two or three other artists that were like, “oh I really like that”. And then they contacted me, and I contacted Gayatri, and the two of us would work together. LAL is one of the bands from Toronto that we've worked with; a man named Matt from Australia, Gayatri was performing in his music video. I supported him because when a Deaf performer is performing, the Deaf performer themselves needs an interpreter to feed them most of the time. So I would be behind the scenes and it would be reverse and Gayatri would be in front of the camera and I would be the support from behind the scenes—just because it's really important to have Deaf representation on screen.
But I don't think it's been smooth. And I have found a lot of issues. And I have found a lot of challenges. But I have found people like Gayatri and Alexa my videographer. Courage is another person who I work with a lot as well. So there are people that do support the vision. And they know that you can't move forward without collaboration. Telling people no without being open to discussion? You can't move forward in anything like that. So yeah, it's been a bit of a struggle, to be honest. But now I found my crew and that's all I need.
Photo: "MDL CHLD"
"...If people disagree with your vision, or don't believe that it will work? If you feel internally that you need to follow this—that this is the right thing to do for you? You can't accept other people's close mindedness or their oppression or their no’s or disagreements..."
N: Do you think that the music industry is eventually going to make this shift towards more inclusion? And then if you do, how long do you think that would take?
M: I do think they will begin to shift that! I truly think that part of my journey here is to help that shift. And that's why I'm really trying to have more interviews and get more attention to the art that we're creating. So that eventually like Beyoncé’s team, or Gaga’s team, or someone huge says “wow, this really is the right thing to do. And these people know how to do it. Let's invite them on board to try to figure out how to make our concerts more accessible and our videos more accessible”. It was really cool when Nyle DiMarco was involved in the 7 Rings music video with a bunch of gay guys. You can also tell that the editor didn't really know how to edit sign language because they kept cutting off his hands. So you couldn't even see the language properly. Part of my skill set is that I edit all of my music videos and I maybe ask for support from some other people, but the #DFWY video for example, I edited that myself because I know the language so I know how to make sure that it's clear, but that the message is there. I really, truly think that we are going to be the ones who influence the industry to change. And I think that we are going to become consultants and that we are going to be teaching, Beyoncé’s dancers how to include ASL into those backup dancers so that when Deaf people go to the concert, the full concert is accessible. Because it's not, it's really not. If you go, Beyoncé is in the middle and the dancers are all here. And the interpreters are off to the side on some little fucking stupid stage. And that's not accessible. Deaf people want to see movement; they want to see everything. And I can literally teach those dancers, with my Deaf consultants and other Deaf choreographers, how to use sign language in the movement. That is an accessible concert. And that will change the way we do things moving forward. There's a lot of deaf people—probably over 1 million or 2 million Deaf people. t's not like there's 30 deaf people in the world; it's a huge community. So we need to wake up and help these people out a little bit. Otherwise, it's just not fair.
S: You mentioned Nyle DiMarco; I am a huge fan. For those of you who don't know, he was on America's Next Top Model, and I think that his experience on that show you got to see, through his experience, how frustrating it is being Deaf. I got emotional at points watching and being like, “Why don't they just include him, you know? He's such an amazing guy; all it takes is them pulling out their cell phone or just taking a second to read what he has to say.” it really is the little changes, like taking your interpreters out from the corners and bringing them to the front and letting them sign and dance at the same time. Bringing it to the front of the stage, rather than having a touch in the back, means that those people don't have to be watching the corner of the stage, but can be watching the action and enjoying it at the same time. And other people in the audience can then also see the sign language and be like, “Oh, yeah, that's really beautiful!” It's really cool to watch.
M: I also think that having those Deaf performers on stage as representation and integrated into the performance—that's where we need to go. That's the goal. But having the hearing interpreters in the crowd supporting the Deaf interpreter who is on stage—that is the best setup that we can really aim for. And I just sort of had this download of what you were saying: all of the movement and the performance and the action is all in the center, but Deaf people need to watch over there because the interpreter is pushing the side into the corner. That is just an overall representation of the Deaf experience for a lot of Deaf people. It's a second thought.
I've interpreted in classrooms and they've said, “ you're too distracting, I need you to go over there.” And I'm like, “I'm not gonna go over there because you're pointing at the board. And I can't point from over there and have the Deaf person playing tennis with their head the whole time.” It's not accessible; it's just bullshit to be completely honest. I think we have a lot to do moving forward, but it can and will happen. It's just a matter of time.
N: It’s really a cultural thing, too. I feel like that's something that we as a culture do to people we don't feel like dealing with or accommodating. We just tell them to do their thing over there while we do our thing over here. But it really doesn't have to be that way. I'm really sorry about that experience for you—the fact that someone was bold enough to tell you to go sit somewhere else? That's such garbage. And there are other communities that can sympathize with that, too. But I do think that we will get to this point to where big stars will start embracing it. Recently, there have been interpreters that have gone viral. You'll see interpreters that are signing and grooving to music and people are inquiring about who they are. So I agree, I really think that, we're gonna make it happen. It's probably closer than all of us think, too.
M: Yeah, and I think that what's really important about those videos that go viral is that: we're only applauding the use of ASL, again, from a hearing person. So it's hearing people applauding a hearing interpreter using ASL, instead of hearing people applauding Deaf people for using their own language in the public eye. So it's already a little bit backwards. Those people should be Deaf people on stage. And those Deaf people should be supported by a hearing interpreter in the crowd. And then the language is from a Deaf person. And the attention is to a Deaf person about a Deaf person's own culture and language.
I also really think it's important that we have properly trained Deaf interpreters and properly trained Deaf people on those stages. Yes, it's their language, and they grew up using the language. But I grew up using English, that doesn't mean I'm an English expert. There's a little bit of a difference—you need some training, you need some performance training, etc. So I'm really in support of getting Deaf people on stage. But we need training for anybody who wants to be on stage as well, because if you then replace a hearing interpreter with a Deaf interpreter, but the Deaf Interpreter doesn't have proper training, then that performance is not going to be properly accessible, either. So there's a lot of logistics that need to be established. There's a lot of screening and training, and that is just a really big conversation. And it's gonna take a lot of time and energy and care and money and resources. So this isn’t going to happen overnight.
Mind you, I do know a lot of Deaf interpreters who are very well trained, very skilled, and they can for sure get on that stage and do an amazing job. So again, it's just about who we are hiring and for what. Are they properly trained? Are they properly skilled? I think it's a big discussion that needs to take place, but I'm happy that now people are at least more willing to have that discussion.
S: Yeah. You mentioned that, it'll take time, it'll take money, it'll take resources, it'll take effort. But so many things do. Having inclusivity all across the board for anyone...it takes effort. It takes time, it takes patience, it takes saying the same thing over and over and over again so that people will finally understand the message. It takes a whole community of people to be able to be a resource for others who identify with that community, but also be a resource for people who don't understand that community. And I think that that's something, The Cultural Reset. We have very hard working volunteers who are very passionate; Nick and I are also volunteers. And these are the people that are willing to put in the hours and the time for this community to develop. It's an investment—it's our time that we're investing into making this difference and to making this improvement in the music industry. Have you found that kind of community? You said that you have created your own community in front of and behind the camera? But are there resources? Is there a website?
M: Not really no. Unfortunately, I have become sort of like a consultant and when I'm asked about how to make performances or art more accessible, I always contact one of my Deaf performance friends. ‘Phoenix The Fire’ is run by my Deaf friend, Gayatri and she helps create more accessible art and performance through consultations. And she actually is involved in performing for people. So that is one resource that you could start with, if people are interested in contacting someone from the Deaf community on how to create more accessibility. I'm a good resource, because I have a lot of knowledge—but I'm not Deaf. I can't tell you what Deaf people want. I can tell you what I think works best for myself when I'm working with Deaf people and that comes from an educated awareness, but the best people are going to be Deaf people. Gayatri’s company works with other performers who are also very flexible and open to educating and discussing what needs to take place and they're not going to charge you an arm and a leg for it. They're going to be fair with their pricing—although they could charge you whatever they want because it's such a specific niche.
I really have found a fair, honest community that I really like to work with. Because we share the same vision of collaboration being the key to moving forward, and we all treat each other with integrity, we're open. I've had a lot of really uncomfortable conversations on challenging topics with Gayatri, as a deaf, black female. We have completely different perspectives, completely different experiences. I am so privileged and I'm so lucky to be a white male, even if I am gay, I'm passing as straight. You would never know if you just looked at me, I'm very privileged. And I think it's important for me to use that privileged platform to share with people who have been so pushed aside—people that have such incredible ideas and perspectives. It's mind-blowing the things that we talked about. Not everyone you meet is open to talking about their internal triggers and traumas. You meet a lot of people who are not ready to deal or heal with that trauma or their triggers. And because of that, it creates a different experience than finding the people who are more open.
I've taken the last 15 years to find my own community because for the most part, I found that there was no community there like that. And that's why I think my Instagram is blowing up— because it includes so many people. I think that's why my workshops are blowing up. I think everything is growing now, because people see I'm just authentic and I just want people to figure out how to get along. We can do that with music and inclusivity and diversity and not only a white person's voice or opinion is the only opinion. I'm just trying to open that up a bit.
N: Absolutely! I love what you're doing. And honestly, I'm so happy that we had a chance to sit down and talk with you, because you're bringing something really needed to our platform and also to the world and the audience that is viewing our platform.
Speaking of people who are viewing our platform, a part of our mission is to provide advice to creatives navigating the industry. So my final question to you would be, what advice do you have to give aspiring Deaf or aspiring queer creatives who want to make their way in this industry?
M: I would just say, don't take no for an answer. If people disagree with your vision, or don't believe that it will work? If you feel internally that you need to follow this—that this is the right thing to do for you? You can't accept other people's close mindedness or their oppression or their no’s or disagreement. I've been doing this and making music now for a long time. It wasn't working for a long time. I was getting a lot of no’s. But you can't let that stop you from trying to really figure out how to manifest your vision. And if you just stick to it, I promise you, the universe will bring you people who are vibrating on your level.
N: Beautiful. I think that's really what makes you a “cultural resetter”. And that's what we call artists like you who are just trying to change the industry and the way it functions. So I'm very pleased that we got a chance to speak with you.
M: Thank you guys. Looking at your website and just meeting the two of you—I really appreciate this connection and this discussion. I love your vision and everything you guys are doing. If you ever need help, if you want to use my platform to get out there, just send me something and I can share it. I love everything you guys are doing. It's really cool.
S: Thanks for being awesome. I've really enjoyed talking and learning from you. And I'm excited to make our website more accessible. Thank you so much for joining us today. And we're gonna go ahead and sign off. See y'all next week!
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