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Native Tongue (ABC)

There was a Late Show skit a couple of decades back now where Santo Cilauro played an “ethnic comedian”, who talked about how he was “holding up a mirror to multicultural Australia” with his jokes about gesticulating Italian mamas, crazy Greek shopkeepers and demanding grandmothers who wanted to feed you up and marry you off, not necessarily in that order.

The skit managed to poke fun at the wog humour profundities and already imbedded clichés, as well as the mix of laughing at them racists/laughing with them well-meaning Anglo-Australians who were watching on. And for some of us wog kids who weren’t sure we wanted to be on either side of that extremely broad humour line it got some of the mixed value from, and mixed feelings about, the whole circus.

(You can tell it was a while back because ethnic comedian was a genuine, new, thing to be mocked/enjoyed; you can tell we’re still in Australia because half the comedians parodied are still doing the wog humour shows.)

That skit came to mind as I explored Mojo Juju’s third record, an album which is a genuine look at contemporary Australia that refuses to hold up a mirror – that’s easy to look away from, and suggests some responsibility on her part to work for us - preferring instead to just open a door and let the wind blow you through.

Who fits in, and what does fitting in actually mean? Assimilation? Integration? Separate but equal? What do you give up when you arrive here with the attitude that your native tongue is at best inconvenient, at worst an embarrassment, so you don’t pass it on to your children? What do you never have if your Indigenous roots are ignored or actively hidden? Who are you if you’re not that part of your background, or this part of your background, and still not part of the current ground in the eyes of some/many/certain federal ministers from Queensland?

As usual, in stories which regularly draw from the personal – “forever I’ve been waiting for you to hear my song,” she sings at one point – but which rarely stop there, Mojo Ruiz de Luzuriaga explores growing up “in the wrong town”, both literally and figuratively. It can be uncomfortable at times, and isn’t made simple for anyone with an easy opinion on things: “I don’t belong inside your narrow definitions” she says in one song; “You don’t know a fucking thing about the places I’ve been” she says in another.

But mostly it’s a clear-eyed image of a continuing path. “Wherever I am, I’m always the other” is at the core of the album’s narrative and that cultural displacement isn’t just restricted to ethnic stereotyping or assumptions but to a wider question of how we connect, including to those we love. “Have you seen me naked underneath my skin? … We’ve got a cold condition.”

But there is one way Native Tongue genuinely is holding up a mirror to multicultural society: musically. Strong in soul and R&B, adept at synth-pop, to the manor born in rock in its various forms, Mojo Juju is the fruit of someone who did not grow up in ‘70s or even ‘80s Australia where there were two ways to make music and only one of them was going to get you a gig.

The slow, Sunday morning gospel-ish of 1000 Years and the tougher toned title track (where she’s joined by the Pasefika Vitoria Choir), the Arctic Monkeys-like rhythm-and-bump of Shut Your Mouth and I Just Wanna Know, or the heavy soul of Hurricane and Think Twice, the groove pop of Something Wrong and Far Too Late, or the modern minimalist R&B balladry of Bound To, all contribute to a sound and style collection that feels like the Australia we hope we live in.

Which is something to be going on with.

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