Mo’Ju’s Story Is One of Resilience, Persistence and Drive
We connect with the Melbourne-based singer and former Levi’s Music Project Winner about their passions, identity and will to convey their message.
Welcome to Live in Levi’s, a new Hypebeast editorial series created in celebration of the iconic Levi’s 501 Jean. As the 501 celebrates 150 years on 20th May this year, we ask top Australian artists across three diverse genres to share their Greatest Story Ever Worn, where it has taken them so far — and where they’re heading to next.
“My story is a story of resilience, tenacity, persistence and drive,” says Mojo Ruiz de Luzuriaga, known musically as Mo’Ju, a Melbourne-based singer and a former Levi’s Music Project Winner’ who made waves in the industry with their 2018 album Native Tongue and title track.
Their professional career took off when Mo’Ju started fronting a band called Mojo Juju & The Snake Oil Merchants between 2006 and 2010. They went solo in 2012. Growing up in regional New South Wales and having both Aboriginal (Wiradjuri) and Filipino heritage, Mo’Ju sees style as so much more than window dressing.
As a queer, nonbinary person of colour, they’ve experienced just about every prejudice the industry has had to offer. Mo’Ju states this as a straight-faced fact. It’s a reflection of their ‘Is that all you’ve got?’ attitude that has been the driving force behind their success. “I’m visibly queer and visibly brown. I occupy a space where I can oscillate between either being really invisible to people or like, hyper-visible to people,” they say. “And so you learn how to dress and use style to your advantage in those kinds of situations.”
In the music sphere, Mo’Ju is renowned for their emotionally-charged lyrics, conveying very personal stories and struggles related to themes of identity, politics and the world around them.
“My great granddaddy was Wiradjuri / My father came here from the Philippine / It’s where I live, it’s where I wanna be / Ooh, but you make me feel so ill at ease,” Mo’Ju sings on “Native Tongue”.
This is an artistic choice they have made that they refuse to be bound by. There’s a pattern to the feedback they’ve received throughout the first phase of their career that centres around the idea of ‘authenticity.’ They explain that there’s often an unconscious bias placed upon them to talk about trauma.
“David Bowie, for example, can write “Star Man” and people wouldn’t ask how that’s authentic to his identity?’ they explain.
One of Mo’Ju’s go-to pieces is the Levi’s trucker jacket, a tour staple. “I have a black Levi’s jacket with “Native Tongue” embroidered on the back,” they say. “It’s got a big logo that we had designed for that show. We embroidered it onto a bunch of jackets for everyone that was on that tour. It has so much sentimental value for me.”
For Mo’Ju, style is an extension of self. As an incredibly in-demand artist whose profile is on the rise, there’s not always going to be ‘off days’ – and Mo’Ju communicates that through the way they choose to look when they leave the house. Their outfit may be a comment on everything they’ve been through in their career, the rejections, all “the industry’s just not ready yet” rhetoric… Or, it can simply be a protest to that very notion.
One might expect someone who has been saddled with the weight of expectation to be exhausted, but Mo’Ju isn’t stopping; not now that their foot is in the door, holding space, where it deserves to be.
“There’s been a lot of resistance to me at times throughout my career. There have definitely been days where I’ve thought of walking away from it. But I’ve reached the point where people know I’m not fooling around. I’m here to stay.”