16th March 2023

Jen Cloher’s journey into Māori heritage

Naarm native and Milk! Records co-founder Jen Cloher have released their fifth album I Am The River, The River Is Me .

The album honours of Jen’s Māori heritage, the indigenous people of Aotearoa, New Zealand and the first time they have woven the Māori language through their songwriting. These are fiercely political songs that never feel heavy: They are energetic and full-blooded, alive with the knowledge that to simply exist — to scream and laugh and sing and make art — is as much a form of resistance as to fight. 

“Patti Smith once said ‘The dead speak. We have forgotten how to listen.’ Te Ao Māori (the Māori worldview) tends to agree. We know there is a thin veil between the living and the dead and that our Tūpuna (Ancestors) are right there with us. This is the spirit I felt close when I was writing and recording the album. I am not doing this alone and it’s not just for me.

— Jen Cloher

On their first album in five years, Cloher finally breathes out. It’s verdant and rich; it luxuriates in stillness, and carries itself with cool, unfussy confidence. It suggests that home is not found in a place or a politic, but in the community you keep.

Inspired by Cloher’s powerful matrilineal line of wāhine Māori, I Am The River, The River Is Me is not urgent, or hurried, but it is vital, made with the care and ease of someone who knows that their past began before birth, and will continue long after they’re gone.

Finding yourself, finding your home, is an unruly, never-ending process; I Am The River, The River Is Me is not a perfect self-portrait, and it possesses no universal truth about what it means to be Māori, or to be wahine toa (a strong woman), or to be takatāpui, or even to be Jen Cloher. Instead, it captures something else — a picture of humanity and community as a gorgeous, unfathomable mess. The joy of life, Cloher seems to say, is in forgiving your moments of weakness with grace, and embracing the parts of you that are unfinished. On ‘Aroha Mai, Aroha Atu’, they put it simply, and perfectly: “I may have come late, but better late than never.”

Jen Cloher Australian Tour

Saturday, 6 May | Rechabite, Perth
Friday, 12 May | The Gov, Adelaide
Saturday, 20 May | Princess, Brisbane
Friday, 26 May | Sound Doctor, Anglesea
Saturday, 27 May | Northcote Theatre, Melbourne
Thursday, 1st June | Venue TBA, Sydney

Ashlea Pritchard


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