Where to go when writing an album about identity in Australia? To Mojo Juju it was obvious – the desert. She wanted to tap into the isolation she felt as a kid, being a queer Australian-Filipino in a run of country towns, so small that Dubbo was the big smoke. She needed a place where the heat was oppressive, in order to better write about oppression. She found a caravan outside Broken Hill.
“Of course, it rained the entire three weeks I was there. More rain than they’ve had in 40 years,” she says, with grim enjoyment.
There’s something poetic about that, because Juju deals in duality. She called her third solo album Native Tongue and, yet, her Filipino father never taught his children Tagalog. His relatives had experienced such difficulty migrating during the White Australia Policy era that when he did arrive, his focus was on assimilation.
Juju’s family history is intriguing. Her mother’s Wiradjuri heritage was kept secret for years; there’s an ill-fated love story behind it all, which Juju explores from all angles on Native Tongue. To illustrate the grief of losing connection to culture, she includes two oral-history interludes from her grandmother and father. Their stories echo the displacement Juju herself had felt.
“I went through puberty when Pauline Hanson was a household name and came of age when the Howard government was in power,” she says. “I couldn’t connect to my Anglo-Saxon heritage because I was constantly told I wasn’t white. Then I went to the Philippines and realised, I have no idea what it’s like to grow up in a developing nation. No matter what part of my identity I claimed, I wasn’t enough.”
Before going solo, Juju led a wild seven-piece, the Snake Oil Merchants, that included a saw player, accordion player, double bassist and horns. As she says, “Great artists reinvent continuously,” and not only is Native Tongue far more complex in its influences – with cameos from soul singer Joshua Tavares, MC Mirrah, spoken word artist Lay the Mystic and the Pasefika Vitoria Choir – it’s her most personal album by far.