Originally published at Ongoing History of Protest Music
Indigenous bassist, composer, and bandleader Mali Obomsawin recently left the folk trio, Lula Wiles.
With Lula Wiles, she wasn’t afraid to compose politically explicit tunes and to speak out on indigenous
issues while on stage.
But after nearly six years of performing to predominantly white audiences, she was frustrated with the apathy and racism that she experienced.
“I don’t want to put myself in that position anymore because it is really alienating and scary, and
sometimes you get really messed-up feedback from audiences or online,” Obomsawin said. “I discovered that for me, it’s not sustainable to spend every night yelling at people from stage trying to get them to wake the fuck up.”
Since leaving Lula Wiles, Obomsawin became focused on establishing the nonprofit Bomazeen Land
Trust to assist the Abenaki and Wabanaki people in reclaiming, protecting, and restoring their land in
what is now western Maine.
Instead of writing explicit protest tunes, Obomsawin now uses her music to convey the indigenous
experience and preserve cultural heritage. Her solo debut, “Sweet Tooth,” a compositional suite due for release on October 28, uses field recordings of relatives at Odanak First Nation in order to tell the story of the Wabanaki people.
An example of this is the first single is “Odana,” which draws from a 17th Century ballad made famous by her cousin Alanis Obomsawin.
“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,'” according to Obomsawin.
Obomsawin added, “Writer unknown, this ballad is a homage to this home that our ancestors founded in the late 1600s.”
“Odana,” tells the story of those indigenous ancestors who fled to modern-day Canada to escape biological warfare and scalp bounties that were issued by the English crown in 17th and 18th-century colonies.
The bounty proclamations, in particular, deterred Abenaki families from returning permanently to their ancestral territories by the end of the 17th-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. They further describe “a great forest extending from the village,” a stolen homeland.
Altogether, the song pays tribute to indigenous forefathers who guarded “this place for us,” and it emphasizes the “importance of this place to the survival of Abenaki people in the face of genocide.”
Listen to “Odana” by Mali Obomsawin: