Mali Obomsawin’s “Odana” Heralds A Full Suite Focusing On The Wabanaki People

Indigenous bassist, composer, and bandleader Mali Obomsawin has released the single “Odana” via Out of Your Head Records. The song encompasses elements from the history of the Abenaki, and brings them together via Jazz improvisation. Drawn from a 17th century ballad made famous by their cousin Alanis Obomsawin, Obomsawin’s single opens with brass bands intended to evoke the marching bands brought to Native reservations by Jesuit priests. The single is taken from Obomsawin’s compositional suite, Sweet Tooth, arriving on October 28, 2022.

Obomsawin discusses “Odana”:

The first song, “Odana”, looks to the reservation community where I’m enrolled. Odana is a Wabanaki word for ‘the village’ – and Odanak, the name of our Abenaki reservation in southern Quebec, means “at the village.” Writer unknown, this ballad is a homage to this home that our ancestors founded in the late 1600s.

“Odana” tells the story of those ancestors who fled to modern-day Canada to escape biological warfare and scalp bounties (17th & 18th centuries) issued by the English crown in its colonies. The bounty proclamations, in particular, deterred Abenaki families from returning permanently to their ancestral territories by the end of the 18th century. The lyrics warn Abenakis to “be vigilant” so that the ground remains peaceful and they do not lose their newly founded villages at Odanak and “Mazipskoik” at the head of Lake Champlain. The lyrics describe “a great forest extending from the village,” a stolen homeland. Finally, the lyrics thank our forefathers for guarding this place for us and emphasize the importance of this place to the survival of Abenaki people in the face of genocide.

The upcoming album Sweet Tooth blends Wabanaki stories and songs passed down in Obomsawin’s own family with tunes addressing “contemporary Indigenous life, colonization, continuity, love and rage”. It features field recordings of relatives at Odanak First Nation, but also conveys a larger story of the Wabanaki people, stretching across the domain of their confederacy from Eastern Canada to Southern New England.

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