FOR years Mojo Juju heeded music industry advice that she shouldn’t politicise her songs. The theory was Australian music consumers would retract from anything that tackled controversial topics like race and identity politics.
On her third solo album Native Tongue, Juju has defied music industry convention and tackled it head on. The result is the former Newcastle artist’s most enthralling and thought-provoking work of her career.
“I was ready to talk about a lot of this stuff,” Juju says from her Melbourne home. “I purposely avoided politicising my music in any way in the past because I’d been encouraged to steer away from that stuff.
“It was always something I did naturally, but there were people in the industry saying, ‘I don’t think that’s the best idea’.
“It reached a point as an artist and an individual where I was comfortable enough to address my own identity in a public forum.”
Juju’s mixed ancestry of Indigenous, Filipino and Anglo-Saxon means she’s held a difficult position within Australia’s multicultural society. While she never felt embraced by mainstream white Australia, she also knew little about her Filipino and Wiradjuri culture.
The process of writing Native Tongue led Juju, real name Mojo Ruiz de Luzuriaga, to delve deep into her family’s history.
“It made me ask the questions to my parents directly and my grandparents,” she says. “I really sought out their personal experience and personal take on real politics.
“I obviously go into my own experiences with racism, homophobia and disconnect from culture, the loss of Indigenous languages. These are all things I felt throughout my life at different times, but for the first time it all linked together.
“I realised I hadn’t spent a large amount of time talking to my parents about how they felt and their experiences with racism with my Dad being an immigrant and my Mum being First Nations and how they actually experienced the world.”
Musically, Native Tongue also marks a shift. While in Newcastle fronting the Snake Oil Merchants from 2006 to 2010, Juju’s music traversed noir punk, jazz and swing.
Native Tongue is rooted in soul - of both the electronic and rock variety - providing greater space for Juju’s vocals and cutting lyrics to dominate.
Newcastle-bred producer Jamieson Shaw played a major role in creating that sound when he reunited with his old friend from their Morrow Park days to record the tracks Think Twice, Something Wrong and History.
“He’s got incredible skills as a producer, also incredible knowledge of music,” Mojo says. “I have broad tastes in music so there were so many references and ideas flying around the room when we were together.
“From Kylie Minoque to INXS to Michael Jackson to Gorillaz. We were referencing so many random and disparate sounds, but he had this ability to pull all those things together and make it really cohesive.”