Jan Juc Moon is the title of the tenth record. The title track is a very personal one, Xavier Rudd tells me, calling from the sunny back porch of his Queensland home. “It was written around 2005. Jan Juc is the name of the town that I grew up in. Jan Juc is the Wathaurong word for the process of burying bodies in trees, an aboriginal practice. They put the bodies of the deceased into the trees to allow their spirit to ascent into the spirit world without hinderance from the ground.”

At the time when he wrote the song, there the moon was the closest to the earth that it would be for a long time according to the scientists. “I felt like the moon was pulling me away from everything I knew and taking me somewhere else.” Back then, the song was not ready to be published, Xavier says. Not sure of where he was headed at that moment on his journey, the song had to wait ten years to finally grown into a piece of music that felt right for the moment. Not much has been changed about the song but Xavier added the heartbeat of his son in the womb to the instrumentation making it even more personal.

“I did a lot of looking back and reflecting, so it made sense for that song to be the title track.”

The Music of the Trees and the Birds

Jan Juc Moon features some of the most prolific work of the artist so far. Released after the record that Xavier Rudd created in collaboration with the UN Orchestra, Jan Juc Moon is a return to the roots of his expression through songwriting. Drawing from the connectedness to nature, the album is inspired by the long conversation that Xavier continues to have with the grounds of his home country. Not always an easy or positive one, the singer is aware of the injustice and discrimination that the colonial past brought upon the country.

“We carry this past with us. The traumas of the violence affect all of us in different ways”. For Xavier music has been and continues to be the healing force. “It is the best medicine. And it has been used by every culture on this planet”, he tells me. Finding the rhythm and the melodies in the nature surrounding us is something that has been done for centuries. “The way we communicate comes from the earth”, Xavier feels.

“Music is everywhere. It is in the trees, in the animals, in the birds. Music is a way of communicating.”  

New Collaborations

Over the past years, and the course of ten records, the process of healing through music has not changed. It is still the way Xavier expresses his pains and hopes. “What did change is that now I am more aware of it. I understand the process a little better.”

Music, rhythms and melodies, move and trigger emotion. For Xavier that is the biggest power of the craft. On his songs he uses the music to transport political messages like on the anthem for peace Ball and Chain. The song features J-Milla a young rapper and advocate from the Mak Mak Marranungu community. Xavier Rudd and the artist clicked immediately and even though they wrote remotely and under the struggles of the pandemic, the song turned out to be the result of a close collaboration of two distinguished artists.

The Voices of the Instrument

The political and spiritual messages have been a constant throughout the musical output of the singer. Another constant is his use of the Didgeridoo. His trademark stage-setup features him behind a drum kit with a large Didgeridoo attached that he plays meanwhile drumming. The instrument is sacred in many Aboriginal communities and plays a special role for the musician as well.

“I started playing it when I was a kid. It came natural to me. I practiced circular breathing on vacuum cleaner tubes, pieces of plastic, anything I could find.”

He got his first traditional instrument at the age of twelve. It is still the one that he plays to this day, he says. “At young age, I was adopted by a Yolgnu elder from the northeastern Arnhem land. That’s where the instrument, called Iraqi traditionally, comes from. He took me to the country, the place where the dream stories come from of the Aboriginal tradition and introduced me to the Iraqi, giving me the blessing to travel with it”. When he passed away, his spirit remained close to the artist. His presence is always around and he feels especially close to when playing the Didgeridoo.

A Spiritual Tool

When I ask about the reactions of the indigenous people to the singer playing the traditional instruments, Xavier explains that they are community is encouraging of his use of the instrument. “I have been told, I play it differently. In my music I use a lot of contemporary instruments. Traditionally the Iraqi was used as a speech tool, that’s why the rhythms are based on the melodies of language.”

“To me it is less of an instrument but more of a spiritual tool.”

The artist is closely connected to not just the music but also the various traditions, the spirituality, and the people on an individual and communal level. He uses this bond in his music. “It is more than an instrument. It is a spirit, and ancient connection,”, Xavier says his eyes lighting up when he speaks about the love for the instrument. On some occasions, its human-like temperament does not allow him to play, on others it becomes a wooden extension of his body.

Connection to the Soil

Xavier remembers the process of learning the instrument as a fast one. He got into conversation with the instrument at a young age. “I have always had a knack for it and could play it easily.” Now, the singer has a collection of several Didgeridoos but keeps using the one he got when he was twelve years old. When speaking of getting new ones, he tells me about the struggles of getting to know the new instrument. “It is like kissing someone at the beginning of a new relationship. It takes a practice to get into the groove.”

The soil, he walks on plays a great role in the music and in his connection with the instrument. It is the earth Xavier Rudd feels the most home on. “There is a huge part of Australia that when I leave does not come with me”, he says. Even though he can appreciate the earth and nature in other places as well and his music has the power reach people regardless of where they live, Australia will always be the place the artist feels most connected to.

Of What Was Lost

But this relationship is not only harmony. The colonial past of the country and the violence is inscribed in the ground and echoes until today. It is written into the structures that render Aboriginal people inferior and invisible still. In Xavier Rudd’s family history his great-grandmother was of Wathaurong decent and vanished at some point. The connection to Australia an ambiguous one. “There is a big question mark in my past”, he says.

While the white population of the country was mostly registered in archives, Aboriginal people have largely gone undocumented. The archives pertain the violence of the imperial reign by silencing and erasing people and entire populations. “This country is full of lost people,” the singer mourns when we talk about this. But even though his vanished great-grandmother might not reappear in the paperwork and her history might remain a mystery, Xavier always felt close to her spirit. “She was never buried. Her spirit was not put to rest, and I wonder whether she resides in my music. I feel like her presence is with me.”

Beautiful, Ugly, Real

The spirituality can also be heard on Jan Juc Moon. On the opening track, Xavier Rudd works with the Gudjingburra brothers Josh and Kyle Slabb for a rendition of I Am Eagle. Witten from the perspective of an eagle, gliding over the landscape of the country, Mibbin is a sea-eagle song in traditional Bundjalong talking about the things and eagle can do but a human can’t. The outcome of the collaboration is a beautifully hopeful song that takes you like on the wings of the eagle gliding through the air.

Another song driven by tender folk melodies and the love for nature is Stoney Creek. The dog that is lying next to the singer features on, it Xavier jokes on our Zoom call. The finger-picked guitar melodies and Xavier’s twangy vocals make this one a singer songwriter gem that will make you want to hop on a bike to ride down a coastal road, wind in your hair. To visualize the tender melodies of We Deserve To Dream, the singer invited yirrganydji dancer Tyrel Dulvarie to perform in the powerful music video.

Closest to the Moon

Xavier Rudd’s music is tied deeply to the country is he inhabits. Reflecting on its bad and good aspects, its beautiful nature and its gruesome past, its rich traditions resonating from the past into the present. The tenth record is an accumulation of those things. Jan Juc Moon is the biggest and brightest moon of the artist’s discography. In our interview, he openly talks about the struggles of navigating the complex past of the country. Through music and words, he aims to uplift the versatile traditions, voices, and artists of Aboriginal descent as much as possible. Because Australia – its nature and traditions – is Xavier’s first love.

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Jan Juc Moon is out now via Salt.X Records.