Rapper Sean Forbes is deaf. Profoundly so, in fact. He has 90 decibels of hearing loss, meaning a face-to-face conversation would leave him mainly deciphering your end through lip-reading. But that inability to perceive sound hasn't left him without the propensity to love music. In fact, that's what drove it.
According to Forbes, plenty of people in the deaf and hard of hearing community love music, but there's never been much access for them into that world. He started signing his favorite rap songs to friends at college parties when he was attending Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and since then he says he's made it his mission to make music that people both with and without hearing can enjoy.
Growing up in a family that loved music – both of his parents were musicians – Forbes says he was encouraged early on to enjoy and participate in music. He says he even feels like he had a certain predilection to it since birth.
"I grew up in a musical family and music's always been really important. It's almost like I was born with rhythm," says Forbes.
His parents noticed that aptitude pretty early on, buying him his first drum set when he was just five.
"I've always been a performer," says Forbes. "I started out as a drummer, but I figured out that if I really wanted to do that, I was going to have to come out from behind the throne. And what I've found out is that I really needed to be a performer for the millions of people in the deaf community that love music and really want to experience it."
Though he still holds a passion for all things percussion, Forbes has transferred that ardor into what's been a labor of love for him since college. A co-founder of the Deaf Professional Arts Network (D-PAN), he's not only been writing his own rhymes, but making popular music accessible to his brethren in the deaf community, which is actually how he got his big break into the rap world.
In order to gain that accessibility, Forbes says he started making deaf-friendly music videos of popular artists like Christina Aguilera and The White Stripes. Having created one such video of Eminem's hit "Lose Yourself," Forbes managed to score a meeting with Marshal Mathers himself, as well the men that helped him write and produce the track.
"I didn't know they were going to be there when I went into that meeting," says Forbes. "I thought I was just showing it to Jeff Bass and when Marshall saw the video, he looked at me and he was just like 'I didn't know deaf people liked music.' And that goes to show people just don't realize it."
Since then Forbes has been working quite diligently on a record of his own original music, an effort that's taken time, but been well worth the journey.
"It took me a long time to do this and these 12 songs were chosen to open people's minds," says Forbes. "I'm trying to do something no one's ever seen before."
With so much of his mission being to bring music to the deaf community as well as make some of his own, Forbes says more than that, he's trying to bridge the gap between those that hear and those that don't.
"I've always wanted to do something to change people's perspective. I want to make music for everyone," says Forbes.
With a forthcoming record due out 9/4, Detroit – along with the rest of the nation – is set to experience just how much impact one deaf kid can have.
DEAF ARTS FESTIVAL In concordance with Forbes' performance, Ford Arts, Beats & Eats isn't only going to be presenting music that appeals to both the deaf and hearing communities; they'll also be providing some visual stimulation provided by folks from the hard of hearing community as well.
The Dear Arts Festival is an exhibit, much like its name implies, that features solely artists that are deaf or hard of hearing. As many as ten visual artists will be showing their work and, according to Ford Arts, Beats & Eats' Art Director Lisa Konikow, it's set to be an interactive exhibition.
"There will be interpreters on hand during the entire festival," says Konikow. "People will have every opportunity to interact with the artists."
From mixed media to ceramics to painting to wood and glass works, those set to showcase span the gamut of creativity.
According to Konikow, the inclusion of the Deaf Arts Festival (which happens to be the name of the community of deaf artists as well as the AB&E exhibit) was one that just seemed to fall into place, both for AB&E as well as the artists.
"The deaf artists were looking, on their own, to be featured. They were looking for an avenue and we've featured emerging artists before. Basically, we were looking and open to a group or organization. We're thrilled to be hosting these artists."
The exhibit is marked as one of emerging artists, but Konikow is quick to point out that their roster isn't simply made up of those that are new to a craft. Many of them are actually professionals who've worked in their medium for quite some time.
According to Deaf Arts Festival president Kathy Derderian, the mission of this community of artists not just to create art, but to enrich and educate the audience. The group, who're from not just Michigan but Colorado, Ohio and Maryland as well, formed for the Deaf Arts Festival at the Holley Family Village in Brooklyn, Michigan.
Mixed media artists Michael D. Hanson, Brenda Klein, Michelle Osterhout and Iris Nelia Aranda have been confirmed for the show. Painters Nancy Rourke and Darlene Weir will be there as well as ceramicist Ellen Mansfield and wood and glass worker Mark Naeyaert, all courtesy of the $15,000 worth of space donated by Southeast Michigan Ford Dealers.
"We are so thrilled to be hosting these artists," says Konikow "This is a great opportunity for them to showcase their work and for people to be able to interact with them. It's quite a big step for them and depending on how well this works out, we'll hopefully be continuing to feature them every year." | RDW