On a typical rainy day in Naarm/ Melbourne, Mo’Ju calls through via a laundromat. It’s mid-week, and while I’m looking forward to my inner-western Sydney iced soy latte, they’re looking out for their smalls: their tumble-dried jocks, and more importantly, their (fairly new to the world) little person. The sweet life of parenting, the love and honour of family, and what might be described as ‘Indigenous Futurism’, are some yarns we share in light of the recent launch of their new album Oro, Plata, Mata.
Released late last month, Oro, Plata, Mata, translating to Gold, Silver, Bad Luck, pays homage to the late Tito (uncle) Peque Gallaga. Tito Peque was a celebrated, multi-award winning Filipino filmmaker from Bacolod, a city on the northwest coast of Negros Island in the Philippines. Mo’Ju’s latest album takes its name, and some stylistic elements, from the first film he directed about a 1982 historical war drama and the journey of family in relation to the ever-pressing, socio-political world.
It’s no surprise that Mo’Ju hails from such an impressive mixed Wiradjuri/Filipino family of talented artists and creatives, especially given the extensive collaborations and cultural elements present throughout their latest LP. Working closely with their Kapatid (sibling) Steve “T-Bone” Ruiz de Luzuriaga through their artistic journey, and with their Tita (aunty) Madie Gallaga greeting us vocally at each scene with the chime of Kulintang (traditional percussion), this album expresses Mo’Ju’s platonic-love-affair with their extended chosen family.
“I always want my work to firstly be for us, for people who look like me and feel like me.”
Among the many esteemed artists included in this 12-track album are Papua New Guinean and Australian-based artist Ngaiire, who provides soulful vocals on “Something To Believe In”, Gadigal-based Ethiopian artist Meklit Kibret, who provides most of the stunning backing vocals and duets with Mo’Ju in “Swan Song”, and Milan Ring, a Chinese-Indian Australian-based artist co-produced “Bran Nue Wurld” and was part of vocal pre-production on a bunch of tracks. The work was produced by Mo’Ju’s long-time collaborator Henry Jenkins, with some additional production touches courtesy of Lewis Coleman.
In the film clip for track eight, “Change Has To Come”, we also see visuals of well-known singers Kaiit and Zelia Rose alongside Mo’Ju and their band, with Mo’Ju rocking their stellar mullet in a deep 80’s glow of a sultry, tangerine sunset. Transcendent, otherworldly, we are teleported back to memory of space that is fluid and warm, and embraces hope. While talks of diversity and representation can sometimes feel slightly mundane, Mo’Ju offers us comfort and safety in visualising truth in the multifaceted parts of us and through those represented on screen.
“I am a joyful person, I am a sexual person, and I am all these other fucking facets as a human being that we don’t always have the luxury of being in a public sphere.”
In speaking on the release of Mo’Ju’s 2018 album Native Tongue to the here and now, it’s clear they experienced a great deal of excitement and growth during that time, while also suffering the exhaustion that comes with a media storm of demands and expectations explicit to First Nations grief-narratives.
“I really felt like [Native Tongue] was a healing process, but also a celebration of love for my family… It was an exercise in committing their stories as a recorded history, y’know? But, I was also expected to sit in my grief and relive my trauma… I didn’t feel like I was allowed to exist beyond that. I participate in activism out of necessity, but I am an artist.”
As a First Nations person it’s triggering to imagine the extent of complete turmoil present for Mo’Ju during 2020, when their first child entered the world. The day after they left the hospital with their family, national protestors were shutting down cities around the globe, including right here in Australia, in the name of Black Lives Matter. These moments sparked a renewed reckoning for the artist, where they grasped deeper insight into who they were and what they wanted for their future now staring back at them.
“Family, community, Ancestral knowledge, spirituality, interpersonal relationships… these things continue to be most important to me.”
Mo’Ju affirms that the beauty of this LP is in its creation as a work that is open to how the public will build their own relationship with it and interpretation of it, no matter who they are. While some – including myself – project our own political understandings onto the work and are fulfilled in elements that speak to overcoming and political uprising, others might listen for its interpersonal infrastructure to their own life and relationships. Even more, listeners might find their most enjoyable elements are the lush soundscapes marked by glitchy, almost industrial production.
“Being an artist is about creative energy. It’s about envisioning and dreaming about a better way and bringing people together. It’s about creating whole worlds… distilling emotions and creating something new out of nothing.”
From their latest work, it’s clear Mo’Ju has only continued to grow and develop into their most authentic self, and it is certain from this album that the love and sense of hope they hold for us all will translate beyond the confines, and beyond the ages, into legacy.
“This is for the future generations… it’s for my kid and the kids in my community. I want them to know that we cared, and we tried, and that there were people here that were trying.”