It is like where the earth meets the sky, out there on the horizon, past yonder, the other-worldliness of a voice and a kind of talent that comes once in generations, mixing with a grounded humility that brings it all home. This is more than a night of music, this is about the intimacy of a story, we as an audience, are privileged to share such space with.
Of Wiradjuri and Filipino heritage, Mojo Juju has an important story to tell, one that some of those among us, need urgently hear. It’s one of growing up in regional Australia, of being lost between cultures, of being queer and of being torn apart by a neo-colonialist society. But it’s not from a point of seeking sympathy that her story is told, but from a place of strength, a place of comradery and reclamation; knowing that, unfortunately, such stories, are still all too common in Australia.
Continuing a lineage of aural history and story-telling that stretches across thousands of years, here spilling across audience alive, made contemporary. This performance is a preview of new music about to be released by the artist on their 5th studio record Native Tongue. From the moment the stage lights rise, Mojo is first joined by the Pasefika Vitoria Choir, the spell is cast, we are under. For the next 90 minutes we are together, we are here, and we are present. Musically it’s tightly wound, a defiant but beautiful protest shifting into, at times, a quite meditation on personal and family history, then only to burst with something else again, something more joyful.
Mise-en-scenes featuring projected images and film from Mojo’s family and childhood archives, slipped in among each of the songs. These moments provide time for each layer of resonance to settle just a little. Native Tongue could also, quite possibly, be the most beautifully lit show we see this year; all saturated colour and dark pop noir. The work of lighting designer, Peter Rubie, it adds another abstract kind of depth to the experience. Good lighting can always elevate a performance to another level, no matter how great the source material already is.
Completing the performance, and joining Mojo on stage are guest performers Mirrah, Joshua Taveres and Lay the Mystic, all powerhouse kinds of talents; its a stellar mix. Mojo’s band comprising of her brother Steven Ruiz de Luzuriaga and Yeo on drums and guitar respectively, are as musicians also up there.
As we continue to watch the accession of this artist, we hear the solidifying of a sound which bridges the worlds of rock, deep soul but with a pop sensibility attached. Mojo Juju is undoubtedly one of the most talented artists we have seen emerge among the Australian Music Industry in decades. Though this performance is billed as a preview of new music to come, the bones are there for a tour-able show and, with such loaded messages behind it, it’s the kind of performance that needs be toured, and more so, to be engaged with by many more than just seasoned audiences here in Melbourne.
Native Tongue is presented as part of Arts Centre Melbourne’s Big World, Up Close, a powerhouse performance series showcasing the most compelling new works from across the globe.
It’s next outing will be at Sydney Opera House, as part of UnWrapped on Sunday the 19th of August.
Image credit: Peter Rubie