News, Reviews

Jen Cloher Announces New Album “I Am The River, The River Is Me” Out March 3rd via Milk! Records / Marathon Artists & Shares New Single “Mana Takatâpui”

November 9, 2022
Photo Credit: Marcelle Bradbeer


Announces new album ‘I Am The River, The River Is Me’ 

Out March 3rd via Milk! Records / Marathon Artists 

Jen Cloher is a songwriter and performer living on unceded Wurundjeri land in Naarm (Melbourne), Cloher  has announced their new album ‘I Am The River, The River Is Me‘ is due March 3rd via Milk! Records/ Marathon Artists. The first single from the album, “Mana Takatâpui” is a celebration of the indigenous Polynesian people of Aotearoa, New Zealand, the Māori, LGBTQ+ community, and is streaming online now.

A note from Jen on “Mana Takatāpui” out today:

“In 2019 I typed the words ‘Māori word for Queer’ into Google. The word ‘takatāpui’ flashed onto my screen with this description: ‘Takatāpui is the Māori word meaning a devoted partner of the same sex. In Western terminology, a person who identifies as takatāpui is a Māori individual who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Takatāpui is used nowadays in response to the Western construction of “sexuality, gender, and corresponding identity expressions.”

I typed my newfound word into the Māori Dictionary app and listened to it being spoken. It was beautiful. The extended ahh after the k, giving it a luxuriousness as it rolled off the speaker’s tongue. I marvelled at the idea of one word that could explain my sexuality, gender and cultural identity. What an incredible language!

The next day on a walk with a queer, trans Samoan friend, I told them of my new discovery. I took a deep breath remembering the speaker on my app and said “takataapui” aloud for the first time. A sense of belonging ensued, like a question being answered. There was a warmth in my chest, the feeling was pride.

I’m no expert but I’m guessing Māori pre-colonisation didn’t hold the same beliefs around gender and sexuality as Queen Victoria’s England. I’ve read that our men were hands on dedicated fathers and some of our best midwives; that our women fought side by side on the battlefield and that our wāhine atua (female gods) held as much mana (power and respect) as our tāne atua. Christianity came hand in hand with colonisation; Their missionaries introducing the concepts of body shame, sexual repression, a woman’s menstrual cycle as impure, homosexuality as a perversion and gender as binary.

Sadly, we may never know exactly what our people believed and practiced but there is a deep knowing that we have always belonged. This song and clip are a celebration of my people, of takatāpui who get up everyday and resist oppression just by existing. Through art making and performing; politics, activism and community organisation all the while raising families, reclaiming their language and remembering who we are and have always been.

This clip stars heroes of mine – those who continue to weave our takatāpuitanga (queer Māori culture) by standing tall. You will see dancing on the steps of NZ Parliament Greens MP Dr. Elizabeth Kerekere, whose PhD and accompanying whāriki (weaving) ‘Mana Takatāpui’ inspired the name of this song; members of the legendary Pōneke (Wellington) based Tiwhanawhana Kapa Haka who formed 30 years ago as a place for takatāpui to stand proud in our tikanga (cultural practices), the gorgeous Tangaroa Paul, a non-binary model for Infamy Apparel and soon to be Dr. Tangaroa, Jacob Tamata, an exciting new choreographer and passionate advocate of vogue ballroom dancing, The Tiwhas, a Māori drag queen trio who serve takatāpui cabaret goodness wherever they go and Quack Pirihi, a brave, young non-binary activist who champions rangatahi (young people) growing up in a system that was never designed for Māori to succeed. 

Even though I have spent most of my life away from my land – making this album and clip has been a true homecoming. It is on my matrilineal moana (ocean) Whangaroa Harbour in Te Tai Tokerau (Northland NZ) that you can see me sailing along and singing while playing my Aunty Maera’s guitar.

I hope this becomes the anthem takatāpui can sing at the top of their lungs in the car, cleaning the house, at the club (remixed!) or at the next Pride day. This song is for all of us. The joyful celebration we need and deserve right now.”

What a touching release, the slower melody striving for great power through the movement. Delicate notes are plucked with the softer percussive push, all of which are accompanied by immersive vocal harmonies and intimate lyrics. The vocal tones weave this refined array of textures and affection through the atmosphere, shifting the themes to accompany such an emotional cadence. Cloher has created such a fragile world that feels celebratory, deeply expressive and crucial.

Cloher’s taut, terse brand of rock is charged with the static tension that comes with being an eternal misfit; they have spoken truth to power with the shrewd eye that only an outsider can possess. Admirers have naturally gravitated towards Cloher’s incisive, generous songwriting. Over the course of five albums, they have won a J Award and an AIR Award and been nominated for an ARIA and the Australian Music Prize. This year Milk! Records, which Cloher founded in 2012 with Courtney Barnett, celebrates its tenth year of releasing music by artists such as Tiny Ruins, Hand Habits, Liz Stringer and Hachiku.

On their first album in five years, Cloher finally breathes out. I Am The River, The River Is Me, her fifth album, is 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.

I Am The River, The River Is Me is an album of remarkable generosity and grace. Recorded between Aotearoa (NZ) and Naarm (Melbourne) with producers Tom Healy (Tiny Ruins, Marlon Williams), Anika Ostendorf (Hachiku) and Cloher’s longtime drummer Jen Sholakis; the album brings in trailblazing artists including Emma Donovan (Gumbaynggirr, Yamatji), Kylie Auldist, Liz Stringer, Te Kaahu (Waikato-Tainui, Ngāti Tīpā), Ruby Solly (Kai Tahu, Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe) and members of the Naarm-based Kapa Haka, Te Hononga o ngā Iwi. The entire record feels communal — a celebration not just of Cloher, but of the rich, life-filled communities that surround them. 

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. 

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.”

Pre-save / Pre-orderI Am The River, The River Is Me here:

I Am The River, The River Is Me track list:
1. Mana Takatāpui
2. Harakeke
3. My Witch
4. Being Human
5. I Am The River, The River Is Me
6. Protest Song
7. The Wild
8. Aroha Mai, Aroha Atu
9. He Toka-Tu-Moana
10. I Am Coming Home

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