Can popular culture and indigenous languages coexist? Students at the Inuit college Nunavut Sivuniksavut in Ottawa, Canada seem to think so.
For a school project, students enrolled in a Inuktitut language course sang a parody version of the global hit “Gangnam Style,” with the lyrics in the Inuit language being about the school and the cultural activities offered on campus. They also filmed a video as a fun way to promote the school, but more importantly, so that the students can practice the native language.
Following that experience, 19-year-old Kelly Fraser from Nunavut continued to experiment with translating pop songs into the Inuktitut language. One of the first songs she translated was the song “Diamonds” by Rihanna, which was then recorded, filmed, and uploaded to YouTube, where it has received more than 65,000 views.
Relying on free hosting services such as YouTube and SoundCloud, Fraser started to attract many fans, who listened to her uploaded translations and interpretations of song such as “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars and “We are Young (Makutuvugut)” by Fun.
The feedback and experience encouraged Fraser to continue writing original songs both in English and in Inuktitut with her band the Easy Four. It led to festival invitations and the launch of a summer tour of Inuit communities throughout Canada, where the band could play the covers and the original songs to a live audience.
While there has been some criticism of this blending of pop culture and native languages, as seen in a handful of comments of the YouTube videos, the reception of this creative use of citizen media in native languages has been generally very positive. Some commenters have called her a role model citing examples where other young Inuit people are singing the cover in schools after seeing the video. Fraser said in an interview with Nunatsiaq Online:
Our intention was to make our language stronger and just make a fun song. I understand that people might feel the songs disrespected our culture, but if we don’t do anything about our culture, if we don’t promote it, then were going to lose it.