Sweet Tooth by Mali Obomsawin is one of the most powerful records released in 2022. Sobering without being melancholic, Obomsawin, along with five band members on instrumentals and a handful of others who shared historical and linguistic information, recorded an astonishing jazz album with themes of love, rage, and contemporary Indigenous life. Though the record only has six tracks, Obomsawin, a Native American, manages to orchestrate several lifetimes’ worth of heartache, triumph, and hope.
Sweet Tooth is split into three movements. Though distinct, the movements are still close enough in sound to keep the album from feeling disjointed. To begin, we’re gifted with Obomsawin’s singing voice, the lyrics sung in the tongue of the Abenaki First Nation. Despite the language barrier for those of us not fluent, the pain and fight in Obomsawin’s voice is evident.
We quickly move to “Lineage,” the album’s second track, which features spell-binding horns, a decidedly freeform section, and haunting humming to close. Many of the songs on Sweet Tooth, like “Wawasint8da,” are Obomsawin’s own versions of music dating back centuries. They’re mesmerizing and beautiful, and tell stories we all need to hear. A documentary filmmaker, activist, and singer, few other artists have the capacity to use music this old to make a new statement like Obomsawin.
Mali Obomsawin is a consummate talent. The singer uses ancestral music to honour Native Americans in an authentic way and proves that some of the most beautiful sounds and stories come from the past. With a little courage and innovation, more of us could share our own familial narratives, though it might not be as well done as Sweet Tooth.