American Indigenous jazz artist makes a stop in Kingston

The sound of improvised jazz resonated through the Isabel Bader

Image supplied by: Mali Obomsawin
The artist’s work includes inspiration from her community.

Improvised music and Indigenous sounds thundered through Isabel Bader Centre this week.

Mali Obomsawin, a bassistand composer from Odanak First Nation, played at the Isabel Bader Centre on Sept. 27. Her performance included her bandmates, who played the trumpet, guitar, saxophone, and drums.

Originally from Maine, Obomsawin’s musical background includes Americana, rock, and jazz, with a focus on Indigenous sounds. Wednesday night’s performance was her first time performing in both Kingston and Ontario.

Despite having never visited Kingston, Obomsawin has family connections to the city. Her grandmother was placed in a Christian-affiliated orphanage at a young age.

She decided to perform in Kingston afterthe Isabel Bader Centre reached out, inviting her to perform.

“Musicians on my Odanak side go back many generations, and it’s a really big part of who we are as people. I inherited that and let it take over my life because I followed it everywhere,” Obomsawin said in an interview with The Journal.

Touring with her band since the 2022 release of her album Sweet Tooth, Obomsawin said the album is a weaving of voices, representing a spiritual story of her Odanak people.

“[I started] with the village and talking about lineage and timelessness. Then going through the structural and spiritual changes in the middle of the suite, like colonization. The kind of strange melding of our stories and spiritual practices with the Catholicism that was forced on us, and how it has morphed and is still in flux,” Obomsawin said.


Sweet Tooth’s songs begin in the village to talk about lineage and timelessness. The structure of the sounds changes in the middle of the piece to depict colonization. Obomsawin described the end of the album as a final movement with a thunderous noise to represent the opposition against colonialism today.

Obomsawin played original songs from her album at the Isabel Bader Centre, while also improvising songs. Her music comes from a place of storytelling.

“There’s a full spectrum of emotion in those stories, and I feel with improvised music, I can channel all of that into an ancestral experience to the stories we’ve lived.”

She encouraged her fans to feel freedom when she plays improvised music.

“You walk into a performance, and you’re bringing so much of yourself. You’re bringing the entirety of yourself there, and those parts are going to be susceptible to different sounds.”

Obomsawin said the relationship people have with her music is dependent on the sounds they hear as individual listeners. Some people might relate to it more than others, depending on what they connect with.

With a spectrum of emotions in the music, it’s Obomsawin’s job as the performer to reveal each emotion’s sound and allow them to come through.

“I’m really trying to embrace moments, and it’s a very cathartic practice for sure. It’s a great kind of release for me and as a band leader.”

Acting as a band leader allows Obomsawin to feel a deep connection to her music. She practices and listens to her bandmates on a lyrical level, but she said she must listen to them on a spiritual level too.

On the idea of recognition, Obomsawin believes it’s important to represent Indigeneity in modern music to show non-Indigenous people that Indigenous people can be musicians too.

“I think people have a lot of inaccurate ideas about Indigenous people. They’re always surprised there’s natives in jazz, and, that’s a really deep history. I’m kind of centered telling stories of all kinds. It’s important for me to stand on a stage and represent people so they leave feeling a lot.”


Bass, Indigenous, Isabel Bader Centre, jazz

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