When Mojo Ruiz de Luzuriaga, known as Mo’Ju (formerly Mojo Juju) launched her album Native Tongue in 2018, it commanded the attention of a nation, collecting twenty-four award nominations, and winning Best Song and Best Album at the National Indigenous Music Awards. Though seemingly having dropped fully formed from the sky, she had been plugging away in the industry for years and this statement was both culminative and revealing: a deep exploration of her Indigenous and Filipino identity and how this has shaped her. 2021 is going to be a massive year for the super talented Mo’Ju having recently becoming a parent she talks about new music which is on the horizon.

How has it been playing shows again?
Well, I just did my first live show in a while, my first in just over a year.

Did it feel a bit weird?
It felt extremely weird, but it was incredible. I mean, it was an unusual type of show for me, but it felt really good to be back on a stage with my friends.

Did it take a little while to blow out the cobwebs?
Yep. Yeah. The show that we just did was with a Victorian Symphony Orchestra, so not only did we have the dust off some cobwebs, we had to really lift our game to their level of musicianship, which is probably, I felt a little out of my depth, but I was happy for the challenge. It was really fun.

Is that the ultimate experience as a musician to play with Orchestra?
It’s pretty amazing to hear your music arranged for an orchestra. It’s not something that I ever really imagined that I’d hear, but it was really cool. That was a pretty weird, but amazing way to step back into live performance. Now, I feel like, “Okay, from here, it’s probably just a little easier…”

Does it take quite a bit of work to get the arrangements to suit your music?
Jamie Messenger did all the arrangements for the orchestra. That’s his area of expertise and he did an incredible job. There wasn’t really anything I had to do in that way. I just had to make sure I performed, that I did my parts well.

When you look at the year ahead, are you starting to feel more optimistic about the possibility of playing more shows?
In a general sense I feel optimistic about things. I don’t know necessarily if what I’m talking about is getting back on track, or if I’m just talking about like finding new ways again, to adapt to the world as it’s looking right now. I think the music industry has always been really good at adapting to changes. Changes in technology, changes in just the way we move about, and all of that, but I guess I feel like after everything we’ve been through, particularly in Victoria over the last twelve months, I don’t want to be over enthusiastically planning. It’s tentative, I’m being cautious, and I’m being careful. I don’t want to encourage people to be out in public spaces as it might not be entirely safe yet.

I’m definitely on the careful side of things, but I am excited about that it does look like that there are more shows here and there, popping up and just being grateful for whatever that looks like. Just grateful to be and I know that it’s been a really challenging time, and there’s been a lot of tragedy. I have to say, I wasn’t entirely, the break from touring wasn’t entirely a bad thing for me in my life, and where I’m at. I’d just come off the back of a lot of heavy touring. I just became a parent for the first time.

Oh, congratulations.
Thank you. I just was really keen to write new music. I mean, over the course of lockdown, I’ve written a lot.

Did you learn a lot about yourself in 2020?
Yeah, it definitely gave me the opportunity to… You know what? Having a kid, and in the context of having a kid in the context of 2020, it gave me a lot of perspective, and it helped me to reprioritise and go, “Wow, I’ve been burning at both ends, and family’s really important.” I guess it’s really important to nurture your relationships and invest more in that, because I’m a workaholic, I’ve always been workaholic. I’ve always been pushing myself to, I guess, achieve new things and just work hard all the time. I think that was really cool for a while, and it’s been great, but I also think, “Hey, my career is sort of at a place now, where it’s got its own momentum,” I know where it’s going, and I’ve got a really good team of people that work with me. I probably don’t need to be burning myself out. I can probably manage a really healthy, sustainable work life, and still get to make music, and tour and do all this. I’m not slowing down, I’m just finding more balance.

It was interesting to be stuck in Victoria when my family, the majority of my family are in New South Wales. That was challenging, having a little kid and he wasn’t able to meet the grandparents or anything until the borders opened up again. That was a little bit challenging, but I think that there’s a lot that we’ve all probably learnt out of 2020, not just COVID related, but just global politics and whatnot. I think it’s been a massive year of reflection, and self-reflection and reprioritizing just across the board for everyone.

Is new music on the cards this year?
I’m hoping. That’s my plan. I’d like to get some music out into the world, because I feel like it’s been a minute since I’ve really been able to release my own. I did a collaborative EP with Joelistics at the end of 2019, Ghost Town, but I feel like Native Tongue was the last time I released something that was purely of my own, for my own project. That was 2018, so it’s been a minute, and I haven’t stopped since then, but I’m ready for some fresh music.

Native Tongue is a fantastic album, do you see that album as a significant turning point in your career?
Thank you. Yeah, I really do. I feel like it was a moment for me where a lot of things came into focus. Early in my career, I was a bit younger and there were lots of voices, there was a lot of noise around me from other people sort of pushing me this way or pulling me that way. When I wrote Native Tongue, that was really a moment where I filtered out a lot of that noise. I was like, “I’m just going to write this album for myself. This is the album that I want to make, and I’m going to do it my way, and let’s just see what happens.”

It just taught me to back myself. It taught me that the thing that people are going to resonate with more than anything is authenticity. The more I can listen to myself, trust my own instincts and that’s not to say I did it all on my own. There was plenty of people around, but it was just about having faith in myself, not doubting myself so much. Telling my stories the way I wanted to tell them. Yeah, it’s been really rewarding to learn that. I think it’s re-energised me for making music.

Do you think you continue experimenting with different sounds and things like that this time?
I always do. I always do. That’s my MO. I try and push myself outside of my comfort zone every time I make music, because that’s the fun part of being creative by exploring things. I don’t want to repeat myself. I want to learn. I’m exploring and learning all the time and being creative is what’s fun about music. There’s no wrong thing to do. You try stuff out and you explore it. That’s what I’m trying to do anyway, is find new ways of doing things all the time, and have fun with it along the way.

Are you looking forward to playing the Adelaide Festival?
I love Adelaide. I actually love Adelaide so much. Every single time we’ve been there, everyone is so hospitable, and it’s just a really pretty city. You guys have amazing beaches. I have a great time every time I’m there. Any opportunity to come and play in Adelaide is a pleasure every time. The audiences are so appreciative and respectful. Anytime I get invited to Adelaide, I’m like, “Yeah, I’m there.”

Interview By Rob Lyon

Catch Mo’Ju at the Adelaide Festival Summerhouse on Saturday 13 March. Tickets from the Adelaide Festival.

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