Rare and underrated, Alanis Obomsawin's Bush Lady is a cult classic finally gaining new listeners through Montreal's Constellation. Considering the lives lived by Canada's First Nations, and the political threats to their existence, the record is both a crucial sonic document and activist statement, offering a record created with painstaking attention to detail by Obomsawin (who rerecorded due to dissatisfaction with an early take). An essential fixture in the history of folk music.
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Constellation’s latest record is an essential find and arguably a massive political artefact. Alanis Obomsawin was a filmmaker and artist who devoted much of her life to telling the stories of Canada’s First Nation families. Before taking on directorial duties, however, she was a songwriter, and after a series of tireless excursions in both mediums (including scrapping this record and starting it from scratch), she made ‘Bush Lady’, a record of traditionally inspired folk music that should have brought the issue of colonialism to the heart of Canadian listeners. While it took on a monumental status, this record was largely legend -- Constellation notes its small, hard-to-find pressing. Here, they have reissued it for all to hear.
A record that marries a specific type of folk -- a word that is often thrown around without thought for what folk music it is, and in what context -- to the avant-garde, Obomsawin made a record that established the existence, if not the identity, of First Nation livelihood. It is at turns gorgeous, as on the record’s delicate opener “Odana”, and powerfully confrontational, as on the two part centrepice “Bush Lady”, which features the sparse instrumentation of a hand drum and a slowly enveloping string part -- Obomsawin chants and sings meandering lyrics that speak to the oppression and violence directed at First Nation women. It is breathless; the spaces Obomsawin opens up in this piece are used to speak to discomfort, not solace.
Beyond this piece, ‘Bush Lady’ contains so much students of folk music, social activists and just people need to hear. The short poem contained in “Of the Earth”; the immense pulse of “And of the Sea”; the gorgeous instrumentation of “Theo”. A massive record fully deserving of this new pressing.
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- Bush Lady by Alanis Obomsawin
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