Mali Obomsawin: Sweet Tooth review | Jude Rogers’s folk album of the month

(Out of Your Head)
In their freewheeling debut album, this artist from the First Abenaki nation repatriates the music of their people

Mali Obomsawin is a musician from the First Abenaki Nation, growing up on ancestral land in Maine and Quebec, whose debut album asks vital questions about the reception and expression of indigenous and traditional music. While studying jazz at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College, an institution founded to train Native Americans as Christian missionaries, they found field recordings of Abenaki songs and stories locked away in the archives. On Sweet Tooth, Obomsawin repatriates some of the music of their people, and their responses to it, into a suite of resistance.

Sweet Tooth begins with Odana, an arrangement of an early 18th-century Abenaki ballad. Telling the story of Obomsawin’s village’s founding, their voice is deep, beautiful and powerful, accompanied by brass and shimmering, rolling percussion. Lineage follows, an original composition, evoking the period of more than 12,000 years that passed before the arrival of Europeans on Wabanaki land. Then comes the extraordinary Wawasint8da, based on a translation of a Jesuit hymn, brought into the community by a priest intent on indoctrination. Obomsawin wraps its melody around an Abenaki mourning song, Sami’metwehu, before the track surges into three minutes of thrilling free jazz.

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