‘Na­tive Tongue’ by Mojo Juju


The first song Mojo Juju wrote, for the al­bum she nearly didn’t make, was “Don’t Stop Me Now”. It’s a yearn­ing ’60s soul num­ber in re­sponse to feed­back she’d re­ceived over the years: that while she was re­spected as an artist, she was too queer, too brown, too “out there” to be mar­ketable.

Na­tive Tongue, Juju’s third solo al­bum, taps into con­ver­sa­tions about cul­tural iden­tity that are dom­i­nat­ing 2018. It’s a nat­u­ral suc­ces­sor to Sampa the Great’s Birds and the BEE9, Child­ish Gam­bino’s “This Is Amer­ica”, REMI’s Di­vas and Demons and Briggs’

Re­claim Aus­tralia, but it also marks a bold new mu­si­cal di­rec­tion for Juju.

Juju has Filipino, Wi­rad­juri and An­glo-Saxon her­itage. She grew up in coun­try New South Wales as Mojo Ruiz de Luzuriaga, con­stantly forced to ex­plain her iden­tity. A track like “Shut Your Mouth” shares the sen­ti­ment of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book Why I’m No Longer Talk­ing to White Peo­ple About Race, but gen­er­ally the spirit of Na­tive Tongue is one of bet­ter­ment, such as in the dance-floor stormer “Some­thing Wrong” – a call to put things right.

There’s also a love story, but it’s not her own. Juju’s great-grand­mother had a child with the Indige­nous man she loved, but stigma shamed her into tak­ing the truth of the pa­ter­nity to her grave. A tril­ogy of songs tells this story from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. Juju also recorded oral-his­tory in­ter­ludes of her fa­ther and grand­mother talk­ing.

Mu­si­cally, Na­tive Tongue is a quilt of in­flu­ences, stitched so skil­fully that the thread is in­vis­i­ble. The tracks are built from the beats up, pop­u­lated with dirty synths, flick­ers of blues gui­tar, glitchy elec­tron­ica, el­e­ments of trip-hop and a def­i­nite nod to Michael Jack­son. Col­lab­o­ra­tors in­clude Jamieson Shaw, best known for his work on the Net­flix hip-hop drama The Get Down, and Joel Ma, aka Joelis­tics. Most mov­ing is the ap­pear­ance of the Pase­fika Vi­to­ria Choir, on the ti­tle track and the reprise. It’s some­how as mourn­ful as a chain­gang chant but for­ti­fy­ing for the soul.

Jenny Valen­tish

No­table men­tions

Birds and the BEE9 by Sampa the Great

Tell Me How You Re­ally Feel by Court­ney Bar­nett

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