Even several days after the OMBIIGIZI performance Thursday February 9th for Blockheater 2023, presented by Calgary Folk Festival, it is easy to clearly recall the faces of the band members and feel the ebb and flow of the wall of sound produced as they played - similar to the sensation of sitting still after spending time in a wave pool, and discovering that the motion is still working inside of you.
Experiencing this project at a familiar venue, like the Ironwood Stage & Grill in Inglewood - the stage, wood floors, wall art, lighting, the atmosphere itself so well known from attending performances over the years - felt somehow surreal. I believe this is due to OMBIIGIZI’s uncanny ability to partner a deep grounding in the here and now with a spiritually informed accessing of layers of existence beyond our five senses. As an audience you were rooted yet transported simultaneously.
A collaborative project between Anishnaabe artists Status/Non Status (Adam Sturgeon) and Zoon (Danial Monkman), OMBIIGIZI released their debut album, Sewn Back Together, in 2022. The band name means “s/he is noisy” or “this is noisy”. During the show Sturgeon addressed the opportunity we have as a country to learn much by observing what Indigenous communities are doing. They also mentioned the importance of family and belonging, along with healing, saying, “healing should be at the forefront of every relationship, even the worst ones”. We can all be appreciative that OMBIIGIZI is making noise for their culture, community, and extending the opportunity for communication through their music.
Stage banter ran the gamut of topics such as airport security and borrowed instruments, to touching on the reason Sturgeon got into rock music being related to not feeling culturally accepted – not feeling that a hand drum might be acceptable at a bar show, as they said. In the liner notes for Sewn Back Together there is an acknowledgement of “the Anishnaabe revival”. About the album specifically is written, “It harkens back to ancient melodies and rhythms while using modern tools and instruments to centre us in our identities as the original storytellers of this land. It is essential listening as we forge our future and reclaim and revive who we are" (- written by Waubgeshig Rice). The raising up of voices despite the history of attempted silencing is a powerful force, and one done from a place of love for OMBIIGIZI. Sturgeon noted onstage that the music draws, “positivity from immense struggle”.
It was easy to drift away on the crashing cymbals afloat atop undulating guitar waves, singing bowl-esque tonal explorations, and to get lost in details like finger nails manicured uniquely for guitar playing, strawberry tattoos, Monkman taking a bow to their guitar strings, and hypnotic vocals. However, a deeper meaning being at play gifted listeners with the opportunity to engage with the music in an even more impactful way, during the performance and beyond.
Not surprisingly Sewn Back Together was listed for the Polaris prize. Described with genre titles such as art rock and moccasin gaze, it is an experience. If you didn't grab one at the show, you can pick up the vinyl through the band’s website at https://www.ombiigizi.com/. I defy you to not be moved upon listening...and also not to constantly have “Cherry Coke” running through your mind afterwards!
Thank you very much to OMBIIGIZI and to the Calgary Folk Fest for media permission to photograph the show and compose a few words on the memorable evening.