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Mo’Ju Magic

Photo by Kira Piru

On the back of their recent album Oro, Plata, Mata, STUN’s Stephen Corvini caught up with Mo’Ju to find out what really matters.

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A few years ago you said in an interview that you were “too queer, too brown or not attractive enough to sell records”. Do you still feel that way?

I was trying to express that I came into this industry in an era where someone like myself wasn’t really considered marketable because of my identity. The powers that be in the industry just didn’t know how to market someone like me, which I think is an under-estimation of Australian audiences. I do think it’s changing. I think that is due the people that have come before me and the doors that they’ve kicked down and then this younger generation who are out there really levelling up.  

Is there anybody that you look up to who has helped your career?

Yeah, there are many. People like Uncle Jack Charles who, as a queer First Nations elder, really was quite widely known and recognised for his contribution to the arts. I cannot imagine the challenges that he faced and how difficult that would have been to remain such a positive light in the community in the face of all of the things that he experienced. 

Do you get a lot of support from LGBTQI+ organisations?

Yeah but I could always do with more! I was so honoured to be an ambassador for WorldPride and to have the opportunity to perform at the Opera House was amazing and such an incredible thing to be part of. The audiences that I probably feel most at home with are those from the same communities that I’m from. At the same time, there is something rewarding about playing to a different demographic.  

In a statement for Plata, Mata, Oro you said: “I’m rebirthing my sound, I’ve always been unafraid to experiment on every album. With this record, I’m a more confident artist than I’ve ever been,”. What is giving you that strength?

The one thing that’s been most valuable is that I’ve learned to trust my own intuition. I think it’s very common for some people to have impostor syndrome and to second-guess yourself, particularly in the music industry which we tend to think of as a really progressive space but it’s not. It’s quite heteronormative and in this country anyway, it’s very white. I’ve often had people around me who don’t really necessarily relate to my experience, trying to kind of dictate to me how certain things should be done. I’ve just kind of realised that I don’t necessarily have to do it that way and doing it my way ends up resonating a lot more with people.  

I’ve enjoyed that your music has had a great evolution of styles. Are there any other genres that you’d like to explore?

Yeah, all of them! I never thought I’d be working with a symphony orchestra. As I’ve embraced technology more, exploring more electronic sounds and then marrying that with a more traditional kind of orchestral instrumentation. It’s just like, how can I continue to evolve my own songwriting and push myself outside of my comfort zone and experiment with new sounds? For me, it’s just experimenting with new sounds and keeping myself interested in what I’m doing. I definitely do find it fun to write in different genres of music because you’re forever learning about the craft of songwriting through doing that. There’s so much to be learned from people that have come before you and different schools of thinking about songwriting. The records that I want to make are probably just gonna get more and more experimental. 

What kind of engagement with your music exists internationally?

It’s something that I probably haven’t explored nearly as much as I should. We did the soundtrack for a film in Germany and a bit of touring, released albums in Germany and in Japan and I’ve had some releases in the States and have done some writing and played a few shows over there but in all honesty, I quite like a simple life. There’s certainly opportunities out there and there’s things that I do want to experience but really I quite like the career I have here. My family is super important to me and my family’s here. A lot of people have to pick up and uproot themselves to go somewhere else to really make an international career work and that’s just not a priority for me.

Family is a powerful and recurring theme in your music. 

I think to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve come from and that sort of relates back to communities in a broader sense. It’s really important to know whose shoulders you stand on and the things that have happened before to enable you to be where we are now and to also understand where we’re headed. That’s what’s important for me, exploring family and family history through music. I see my job as a storyteller to keep certain oral traditions alive and document those family histories through my music. But you know, when I say family, I don’t just mean my immediate family or my bloodlines. I also mean my chosen family as well and those in that kind of inner circle, my community, the people that I’ve kind of made a family with. I think as queer people, those types of families are really important to us because not everybody has such a positive experience with their birth families and so I think a broader understanding of what family means is also really kind of integral to interact. 

What part does spirituality play in your life?

I consider myself a spiritual person and also a big fan of science. I think it’s about how those two things speak to one another and recognising that two things can be true simultaneously. To me, it’s deeply personal and I think a lot of that is tied to my relationship with my ancestors and a relationship with the environment that I live in. I think that is probably a very universal experience for First Nations people anywhere in the world. 

If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you might be doing?

When I was a kid, all I wanted to be when I grew up was an illustrator. That’s what I wanted to do and I still like to draw. I’m an avid photographer, a real photography enthusiast. There’s all sorts of things I imagine myself doing and I do think they all come into play in how I put my music out to the world. I even applied to film school and nearly went down that path but later I got into a music degree and I haven’t looked back.

What really makes you happy?  

It’s pretty simple for me. I love being around my family, my friends, being part of my community, being creative, collaborating. I get to make music with people that I love, they’re my friends. When I was younger I loved being on the road on tour but now I do enjoy playing shows but I don’t need to be on the road for months at a time. More and more the older I get, I love the studio. For me, it’s the creative process and doing it with people that I love.

Oro, Plata, Mata is out now on Virgin Music