2019 sees prolific Sicilian Gioele Valenti return to JuJu with Maps and Territory, the third release under the moniker. Valenti released seven albums under his first project, Herself, starting in 2000 and released the most recent, Rigel Playground, just last year. Along the way, he played with Lay Llamas and Josefin Öhrn And The Liberation. In 2016, Valenti laid the groundwork for a sound and aesthetic on a project titled JuJu, though the follow-up in 2017 (and first release on Fuzz Club Records), Our Mother Was a Plant, truly defined JuJu across sound and concept. JuJu mixes influences of Kosmische Musik, post-punk, Afrobeat, glam, and drone to create something that makes listening to a record feel ritualistic. I previously said of Our Mother Was a Plant that “Valenti is a shaman for the ears, utilizing repetitive and, at times, dancey beats layered with a broad palate of instrumentation to hold listeners in a state of transcendental bliss;” a statement which I stand by with Maps and Territory.
Maps and Territory is the perfect sequel to Our Mother Was a Plant, picking up where the 2017 record left off, building on top of it with further sonic explorations into realms of electronica and jazz. I love when musicians create certain sonic themes that they either repeat or develop variations of. Frank Zappa is famous for this, what he called conceptual continuity, and it feels like there are elements of this within Maps and Territory. On “I’m In A Trance” the groovy, bouncing rhythm is different than, but reminiscent of, “Patrick” off of Our Mother Was a Plant just as the playful stomp of the rhythm on “God is a Rover” evokes memories of “Death by Beautiful Things.” While all four are entirely different songs, these elements build a cohesive musical universe that is the beautiful sonic shamanism of JuJu.
While exploring musical themes, Valenti’s conceptual ideas are just as intriguing, adventurous, and complementary. Where Our Mother Was a Plant examined themes such as the refugee crisis and our relationship with Mother Earth, Maps and Territory explores borders, both physical and psychological. Plays with the idea of borders in execution as well by featuring collaborations with Goatman (from Sweden) and Amy Denio (U.S.A.). “Archontes Take Control,” the track featuring Denio, is a perfect end to this record as her saxophone playing is woven beautifully into a tapestry of atmospheric vibes, abrupt counter-point synth, and the project’s signature driving rhythm.
JuJu is equally playful and philosophical, offering food for the soul. Whatever it is that Valenti is able to do with JuJu feels incredibly human, natural, and just generally feels good to listen to. I might go as far as to say that JuJu has healing properties; I’m certainly in a better mental state after listening to Maps and Territory and will be revisiting this record with regularity this year. If you enjoyed Our Mother Was a Plant, or if this is the first you’re hearing about JuJu, do your ears a favor. It’s out now on Fuzz Club Records.