Sudbury·LIVING LANGUAGES

Attawapiskat rock band Midnight Shine puts Indigenous spin on a Neil Young classic

When a rock band from Attawapiskat added its own touch to a Neil Young classic, the resulting music video went viral. Adrian Sutherland, frontman for Midnight Shine, spoke with Up North host, Waubgeshig Rice, about what it was like to translate the lyrics of 'Heart of Gold' into Mushkego Cree.

Adrian Sutherland explains what it was like to translate 'Heart of Gold' into Cree

Midnight Shine is (front) Adrian Sutherland, (back left to right) Stan Louttit, Charnelle Menow and Zach Tomatuk. (Supplied by RAS Creative)

Neil Young's Heart of Gold has been covered by a lot of artists. When Midnight Shine, the rock band from Attawapiskat, decided to do their version, frontman Adrian Sutherland said they wanted to do something nobody else had done with the song.

"So we decided, well, why not do a bit of chanting in there, add in some tribal drums in there as well, and then we said why not sing the first verse in Cree and add it as a third verse?" said Sutherland. 

"I spent the evening, you know, writing out the lyrics in Cree, and trying to think about how to say certain lines in there without getting away from what the meaning of those lines were," said Sutherland. 

He explained that sometimes when you go from English to Cree, or from Cree to English, there are no words or phrases that accurately describe what needs to be translated.

Video for Midnight Shine's cover of 'Heart of Gold' was shot in Attawapiskat. (Supplied by RAS Creative)

Sutherland says the one line he had trouble translating was "heart of gold." 

"In Cree, the only way I've heard 'gold' described is like 'money rock.'" He added that he didn't think "money rock" was going to sound right so he translated the phrase as "good-hearted." 

As the name implies, Oji-Cree is a dialect of the Ojibwe language that has been influenced by the Cree language over time. "It's a mix-mash of both languages, I think," said Sutherland. "That explains why we're really able to understand our neighbouring communities to the west of us," he added. 

"I think it's a great language," said Sutherland. "I'm really proud to be able to be a fluent speaker and I continue to try to learn the language as much as I can."

As for the popularity of the band's Heart of Gold video, Sutherland says if he could do a backflip, he would.

The song is on Midnight Shine's third album, High Road.

Every Monday on Up North we put the spotlight on the Indigenous languages spoken in northern Ontario. This week, we have a special musical treat. Midnight Shine is a rock band from Attawapiskat, on the James Bay coast. They recently released a video for their cover of Neil Young's Heart of Gold, which is going viral. Midnight Shine's version is sung partly in Mushkego Cree. Up North host Waubgeshig Rice reached frontman Adrian Sutherland at home in Attawapiskat to explain how their version came about. 6:47

With files from Waubgeshig Rice