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Mojo Juju on her sudden claim to fame

Categorically, 2018 was by far the busiest year of Mojo Juju’s career so far.

The Dubbo-born, Melbourne-based singer came through with her most ambitious album yet on August’s Native Tongue. It scored her an ARIA nomination, a J Award win for Australian Music Video of the Year and even an unexpected interaction with conservative commentator Andrew Bolt over her lyrical content. After over a decade of performing and touring, Juju achieved more in a matter of months than she had over a series of years. “It’s funny, because this album came from a place of feeling like I had nothing to lose,” says Juju of Native Tongue’s success. 

“I wasn’t caught up worrying if the songs were too personal to ever be relatable. I was making this album entirely for myself. I mean, I’m locked out of certain parts of the music industry anyway. There are people out there that are never going to listen to me, no matter what I do. Why not just do something that came from the heart; something truly personal?” When Juju first released the title track from the album, she could have never anticipated the response it would get – at over 150,000 views, it is the most popular video of hers by a considerable margin.

“I was so intrigued by all the messages I was getting,” she says. “Here I was, thinking that this was something so directly autobiographical, and I had so many people telling [me] how much it spoke to them and how much it meant to see themselves represented. This is my story, and to have people writing to me and saying ‘This is my story, too’... that’s easily been the best part of all of this.”

Juju’s live show – once heavy on big-band flashiness and rootsy, blues stomping – is now a bare, minimalist affair. Primarily, Juju is joined by her brother Steve Ruiz de Luzuriaga – aka T-Bone – on drums, as well as bassist/keyboardist Yeo Choong. The two aren’t always available, however, due to their individual careers. 

“My brother’s a scientist, so he can’t always get away from his work and research,” says Juju with a laugh. “I’ll ask if he’s available for these dates, and he’ll say he’s busy with his science stuff – although he says it a bit more eloquently than that. I’m trying to rope him in a bit more where I can, though.” As for Choong, he’s best known under his mononymous first name, creating beat-heavy synth-pop as a solo artist.

“Yeo’s kind of in the middle between myself and my brother as far as age goes,” says Juju. “He had a similar sort of upbringing – he’s Chinese-Malaysian, and he grew up in Geelong and Brisbane in the ‘90s and early 2000s. We were both isolated, not really fitting in – it was the Pauline Hanson era. Growing up Asian in that era was not fun.” 

The momentum of Native Tongue is rolling on into 2019, as Juju and co. prepare for some big shows around the country. This includes an appearance at Bendigo Autumn Music which will welcome the likes of headliner Kurt Vile and the Violators alongside locals such as Cash Savage and the Last Drinks, Laura Jean and Tex Perkins and the Fat Rubber Band. Juju goes on to note that having both Ruiz de Luzuriaga and Choong out on the road with her has helped to reinvigorate and stylistically reinvent her entire live show.

“I feel like seeing us live now really gives the songs the context and the environment that they deserve,” she says. “The three of us, we’re like a family. We’re all working together, we’re all up on stage multi-tasking and making it happen. I’m able to really trust that the material is going to be handled with a lot of care, because the people who [I’m] performing it with really feel what it’s all about. It gives a sense as to why I wrote these songs, specifically.”

Mojo Juju performs at Bendigo Autumn Music festival which comes to Bendigo from Thursday April 25 to Sunday April 28. Grab your tickets via the festival website.