11 Jul 2024

Band with deaf singer breaking new ground

6:04 am on 11 July 2024

By Caitlin Lester

A Wellington band with a deaf singer is breaking new ground in the deaf community.

MaryJane Thompson, the singer and keyboard player of the two-piece band Deaf Edge, was born deaf.

Bi-lateral atresia runs in her family - her mother was also deaf.

"My hearing loss is significant," she said

Being deaf has never stopped her love for music though.

From a young age, she would sing along to music, with some of her favourites being Jeff Buckley and Lauren Hill.

"I would have it playing really loud, but it's almost like the music is outside your body, and you're turning up the volume to hear the sound and no amount of turning it up will actually let you really hear it."

But when MaryJane Thompson was 20 she got a bone-anchored hearing aid, which changed her life.

She said it was amazing to hear her voice for the first time.

"It was then that I really started to understand this concept of tones. You know like matching tones and mimicing singers is what I used to do, but when you hear your voice for the first time its so drastically different from singing deaf."

Deaf Edge members Simon Cuming and Mary Jane Thomson

Deaf Edge members Simon Cuming and Mary Jane Thomson. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Guitarist Simon Cummings is the other half of the band, and said he had always been interested in experimental music.

When MaryJane Thompson told him she had written over 1000 songs and a large amount of spoken word poetry, he was keen to collaborate.

Cummings said he has had to adjust his way of making music and looks for visual cues from his bandmate know when to make changes.

He said he enjoyed Thompson's use of repetition.

"It becomes hypnotic. It's very much sort of a dream, folk approach with experimental overtones."

Thompson said the song writing process was organic and she waited for the words and melodies to come to her.

She recorded herself and listened back to make sure she was not singing flat.

"That can take a little while," she said.

And how does a deaf person know they are not singing flat?

Thompson said she could physically feel the music within her and tried to match the frequencies.

"It's the feeling of the harmony."

Thompson said she did not know any other deaf musicians.

Deaf Aotearoa chief executive Lachlan Keating said MaryJane Thompson was the first deaf singer he has heard of.

"There's not too many deaf singers out there, singing's not common for the deaf community."

He said there were a few deaf rappers he knew of, but they used sign language.

Sometimes a singer would translate this for the hearing community.

Keating said sign language interpretation has also become increasingly common for popular musical acts.

The recent Taylor Swift concert in Melbourne used a sign language interpreter, as will the Coldplay concert in Auckland later this year.

Deaf Edge are currently working on a new EP.