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Mi'kmaq Blackbird singer gets huge shoutout from Paul McCartney

A dream has come true for Cape Breton teen Emma Stevens and her music teacher.

A dream has come true for Cape Breton teen Emma Stevens and her music teacher

A dream has come true for Cape Breton teen Emma Stevens, who sang a stunning rendition of Blackbird in Mi'kmaq, and her music teacher Carter Chiasson. (YouTube; Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

When high school students at Allison Bernard Memorial High School in Eskasoni, N.S., released their stunning cover of the Beatles' classic Blackbird last month, it quickly took off around the world — but little did they know the pop music titan who originally penned the song would soon be singing their praises.

Led by music teacher Carter Chiasson, students recorded the Paul McCartney track in their native Mi'kmaq language, with translation by Chiasson's colleagues Katani Julian and her father Albert "Golydada" Julian.

The song quickly went viral, but in a q interview, 16-year-old singer Emma Stevens said there was one person she most wanted it to reach: "I want Paul McCartney to hear it."

Thousands of people tagged McCartney on social media, but he didn't comment publicly — until now.

"There's an incredible version done by a Canadian girl. You see it on YouTube. It's in her native language," McCartney said in a video from a tour stop in Lexington, Ky. "It's really cool, check it out."

Chiasson and Stevens first heard about McCartney's comments when they were in Nairobi as guests of the United Nations for the inaugural UN-Habitat Assembly, and Stevens' father saw someone mention them on a YouTube thread. Soon after, someone in Cape Breton had tracked down the video on social media and shared it.

"I didn't want to believe it until I saw it with my own eyes," said Stevens in an email to q.

"Then, when I realized it was actually real, I got so excited that it almost made me cry. I grew up listening to the Beatles everyday, my dad is a super fan," she continued. "To have someone like Paul recognize what we did, and why, is a true honour. This is very special for all of us."

Musician and high school music teacher Chiasson, who organized the recording of the Blackbird cover, is also a lifelong Beatles fan, and says that seeing McCartney live is on both his and Stevens' bucket lists.

"I'm not sure what to say other that this is all very surreal," said Chiasson in an email Monday. "Never did I think that my life would cross paths with Paul's, let alone in a way like this. I mean, he heard our version of his song, he liked it and then told his fans that it was 'incredible.' To me, that's just surreal. 

"I've been a huge Beatles, and a Paul fan, since I was a young kid," he added. "Without question, I wouldn't be a musician if it were not for him and the Beatles. That's how big of a musical influence Paul has been to me. To say the least I'm over the moon."

For both Chiasson and Stevens, and the rest of the class, recording the song was not only about preserving the language, but also about creating cultural understanding.

"I'm proud and I'm really passionate about it,"  said Stevens, who hopes to continue singing and to become a social worker, in an earlier interview with q. "My culture is one of the biggest things in my life. So sharing it with others outside of the community, and people who don't speak Mi'kmaq and don't really understand it, it gives them a different perspective and shows them that our language is very beautiful.

"And it's not only our language. If they learn about our culture and what we've been through, then maybe they'd understand more."

"More than anything, we are all hoping that this helps bring widespread awareness to the importance of preserving indigenous language and culture, and the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages movement," added Chiasson. "We are beyond excited about the awareness that this is bringing to Mi'kmaq language and culture in particular, and to our home, Unama'ki (Cape Breton). Thank you, Paul McCartney!"

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also tweeted his congratulations:

Last week, Stevens was in a different international spotlight at the UN-Habitat Assembly in Nairobi, where she spoke about the Red Dress Movement in Canada, which honours missing and murdered Indigenous women, and sang the Mi'kmaq Honour Song.

"It saddens me to say that 4,000 Indigenous women in my country have gone missing or were murdered since the 1970's and most of the crimes have gone unsolved," she told the audience.

"Even in a modern democratic country like Canada, Indigenous people are still fighting for equality, justice and reconciliation."

Here are the Mi'kmaq Blackbird lyrics in full:

Pu'tliskiej – Kime'sk 

Pu'tliskiej wapinintoq 
Kina'masi telayja'timk 
tel pitawsin 
eskimatimu'sipnek nike' mnja'sin 

Pu'tliskiej wapinintoq 
Ewlapin nike' nmiteke 
tel pkitawsin 
eskimatimu'sipnek nike' seya'sin 

Pu'tliskiej…layja'si 
ta'n wasatek poqnitpa'qiktuk 

Pu'tliskiej…layja'si 
ta'n wasatek poqnitpa'qiktuk 

Pu'tliskiej wapinintoq 
Kina'masi telayja'timk 
tel pitawsin 

eskimatimu'sipnek nike' mnja'sin 
eskimatimu'sipnek nike' mnja'sin 
eskimatimu'sipnek nike' mnja'sin

Boo-dull-ees-kee-edge wobbin-in-toq 
Kee-na-ma-see dell-I-jaw-dimk 
dell-bit-ow-sin 
ess-gum-mud-dum-oo-sup-neg nike' mn-jaw-sin 

Boo-dull-ees-kee-edge wobbin-in-toq 
ew-la-bin nike' num-mid-deh-geh 
dell-bit-ow-sin 
ess-gum-mud-dum-oo-sup-neg say-ya-sin 

Boo-dull-ees-kee-edge, lie-jaw-see 
don wassa-deg poq-nit-ba'q-ik-tuk 

Boo-dull-ees-kee-edge, lie-jaw-see 
don wassa-deg poq-nit-ba'q-ik-tuk 

Boo-dull-ees-kee-edge wobbin-in-toq 
Kee-na-ma-see dell-I-jaw-dimk 
dell-bit-ow-sin 

ess-gum-mud-dum-oo-sup-neg nike' mn-jaw-sin 
ess-gum-mud-dum-oo-sup-neg nike' mn-jaw-sin 
ess-gum-mud-dum-oo-sup-neg nike' mn-jaw-sin

About the Author

Jennifer Van Evra is a Vancouver-based journalist and digital producer for q. She can be found on Twitter @jvanevra or email jennifer.vanevra@cbc.ca.

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