“I know this is heavy,” Mojo Juju told us halfway through this show. “But stick with me.”
There was no need for the singer-songwriter to be apologetic, even to those who might have come along expecting her to just play last year’s Native Tongue album and assorted jams from the previous three.
Instead we got the 35-year-old Mojo Ruiz de Luzuriaga baring herself in spoken word as much as song, but it was rarely less than compelling and necessary listening.
Native Tongue, a concept album that gives the term a good name, saw Mojo grappling with her family tree – her dad is Filipino, her Mum is of mixed Wiradjuri and European heritage – and her struggles to belong on any particular branch of it.
We heard the experiences behind that search for self. Turns out this “brown, queer girl with a name nobody could pronounce” gets almost as hard a time in today’s Australian music industry as she did in regional towns growing up.
However, Mojo never played the victim, recalling all the taunts and the slights and the outright violence as things that ultimately empowered her. As she sang on the stunning title track that opened both the album and this show: “I will not apologise/ For taking up this space.”
Mojo’s investment in these songs was heightened by her remarkable voice, able to convey growling menace on Think Twice (her ‘tribute’ to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton), stark alienation on Cold Condition (with a spine-tingling guest spot from fellow “blasian” Joshua Tavares), or aching vulnerability on love-conquers-all ballad Bound To.
It wasn’t perfect. Having a band consisting of only younger brother Steven on drums emphasised the importance of family for Mojo (her mum was in the audience too), and together with her electric guitar they made a soulful noise – but it also meant we got a few too many backing tracks.
But not on the highlights. 1000 Years, a spectral, broken-chord ballad sung from the perspective of her great-grandfather Jackson (a Wiradjuri man who had to hide his relationship with Mojo’s white great-grandmother), deserved to be a standard for forbidden lovers everywhere.
Then new song Leave It All Behind (showing off impressive high notes) and seize-the-day anthem History (uplifted further by members of the Pasefika Vitoria choir) found Mojo confident of her place, and us thankful that she’d taken it.
Michael Bailey writes on entrepreneurship and the arts. He is also responsible for the Financial Review’s Rich Lists. He is based in Sydney.