From Old Town Road to Don't Stop Believing, this man has translated 100 songs into Miꞌkmaq

A fisherman by trade, Terry Googoo has translated over 100 popular songs into the Mi'kmaq language.

‘Whenever I do a song, I feel like I accomplish something in my life,’ says Terry Googoo

Terry Googoo performed some of his Mi'kmaw covers at a Mi'kmaq Treaty Day showcase organized in Halifax last year. (Submitted by Terry Googoo)

How do you say "gangsta" in the Mi'kmaq language?

Kji ilistik.

It combines the descriptions for "grand" (kji) and "disobedient" (ilistik), said Terry Googoo, who translated the word for a cover of Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise last year.

It's one of 100 popular songs the 42-year-old father of six has translated and uploaded to his YouTube channel in the last two years.

He's a fisherman by trade originally from the We'koqma'q First Nation in Nova Scotia, who has been living in Membertou, N.S., for the past 18 years.

"Now I may not be the greatest singer in the world or anything like that but I have a good gift of singing in Mi'kmaq," said Googoo.

Googoo's passion for music and his language has included singing covers across a variety of genres from his favourite artists like Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Matchbox 20, to songs from Queen, Ed Sheeran and Twisted Sister.

"It's to show the next generation that any types of songs and styles are possible in our language," said Googoo. 

"I do hip hop, rock, I do country, I do even heavy metal in there. I cover all those songs just to prove our language is flexible, that it can be played around, like."

He spends anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks on each song. First, writing them out, practising, and then recording a video. 

"I practise about 100 times before I try to make a video. When I do the video, it takes me about 100 times to get it right," he laughed.

Doing his part to preserve the language

According to Statistics Canada, 8,870 people were knowledgeable of Miꞌkmaq in the 2016 census. But the language's vitality is categorized as vulnerable according to UNESCO's atlas of endangered languages.

It's the reason why Googoo said it's important for him to sing covers in the language. Googoo was raised by two fluent parents. He said even though that made him struggle with learning English when he was a child, his upbringing helped shape his sense of identity.

"I feel like I have to do my part to help promote, protect and, and preserve my language by doing it in ways that I know how, and that's through music," said Googoo.

"Just doing a song brings my spirits up. As soon as I'm done that, I feel a rush throughout my body that I actually accomplished something in my life, and something positive for my people."

Now that his YouTube channel has reached 100 uploads, Googoo said he hopes to focus on his own music moving forward.

"My mother was a storyteller. I want to bring her stories to life through music, not only her but other elders," he said. 

"I really hope this next generation can really learn how to carry on the language, and really hope that other nations could do the same thing with their music and their language. Inspire one another, let's all work together."

CBC Indigenous is highlighting a few of the many diverse Indigenous languages that exist across the country. Read more from the Original Voices project.


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.