INTERVIEW: Jen Cloher | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Jen Cloher celebrates the release of their fifth album I Am The River, The River Is Me; a softly powerful album which is an ode to their Māori ancestral heritage and tribal ‘aroha’. The album combines folk and rock music in order to produce an electrically stirring and rich sound which is intensified by energetic guitar and drums.

Considering the title of the album, Jen acknowledges the infusion of the natural world within the lyrics of the songs: “I Am The River is a Māori proverb, we are a part of, not separate from the rivers and mountains of our ancestors. We have a role to play,” Jen contemplates, “we have always had an important role.” One’s own sense of belonging is thus paramount to the album and can be illustrated within the quietly rebellious tracks Protest Song and Being Human (“What use is a protest song / Nobody wants to be wrong / People die for an idea”). When reflecting on Protest Song, Jen mused that it was written in order to convey the closeness and connectivity between people and their own ideologies. “It is always nice to know someone is feeling the same as you,” they believe.

Jen invokes the Māori language as a means in which to unify and commemorate a culture and consecrate it within their own music

Within exultant songs such as Mana Takatāpui and He Toka-Tu-Moana, Jen invokes the Māori language as a means in which to unify and commemorate a culture and consecrate it within their own music. Within the quietly spirited and hopeful track Mana Takatāpui the guitar softly underscores a sense of hope and Jen’s own gentle voice imbues the track with a striking optimism. Reflecting on the track further, Jen meditates that ‘Takatāpui’ is the Māori word for LGBTQ+ or queer: “Originally the word pre-colonisation meant a close friend of the same gender,” they say, explaining that the word was resurrected in the 1970s by a Māori lesbian feminist. ‘Mana’ can be translated to personal strength, thus through the hauntingly beautiful and spring-like track, Jen reflects and celebrates the confluence between one’s self-identity and own ancestral history. Their album is definitely governed and bound by love as well as identity, which Jen describes to be flowing throughout their music, perhaps as leaves run on water.

In the wake of the pandemic, I Am The River, The River Is Me was subsequently composed as an album concerned with identity and people; Jen used the time in isolation to focus and learn the history and language of the Māori culture, as they explain: “Heritage means knowing who you are and where you come from.” Indeed, the album cover, in which Jen is depicted standing in water with raised arms, is poignant: “I am standing in my river, my tribal river” – that is the Tou Wai river which runs through Matangirau. The river is Jen’s ‘pepeha’, every Māori has a river they identify with which is divine or sacred.

Indeed, the album is certainly devoted to place, nature and one’s own sense of belonging. The soft and almost dream-like songs can allow for individuals to feel as though they belong. I Am The River, The River Is Me professes that humanity has always been a part of nature, and always will be.

Jen Cloher plays The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle on Friday 9th June. I Am The River, The River Is Me is out now.


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