The universe really does work in mysterious ways and by mysterious ways, I mean a series of coincidences. About a month ago I was telling a friend about Neneh Cherry (being 25, he had never heard of her) and how her song ‘Buffalo Stance’ has pretty much been my life anthem. The song was one of her biggest hits off of her debut album ‘Raw Like Sushi’ back in ‘89 and it was this album that inspired me to name my goldfish Neneh Cherry a week later. Then, just a week after that, ACCLAIM asked if I would be interested in interviewing Neneh as she has a new album out. Seriously…what the actual fuck?
Before I knew it I had Neneh’s phone number and I was speaking to her an hour after she had landed in London in the middle of her European tour for her first new album in 16 years, The Cherry Thing.
I couldn’t help but relay the events leading up to the interview to Neneh… she just laughed and said “That’s how life works! Every event in your life is like stringing beads onto a necklace which takes you onto the next bead and the next until you find yourself in a remarkable place!” Good Lord she was easy to talk to and her accent, a mixture of Swedish, New Yorker and English (representing where she was born and currently resides, where she moved and lived as a child and where she spent most of the ‘80s and ‘90s, respectively), was soothing and had that unmistakable jazz singer huskiness that is just so incredibly sexy. Yes, I have a crush on Neneh Cherry.
She took the beads on a necklace analogy and applied it her musical journey. “My step dad, Don Cherry, was a music man of the world who played with people like Lou Reed and Ian Dury and he brought so much music into my life. I dropped out of school and went on tour with Don and this is how I entered the punk scene, because it was on this tour I became good friends with Ari, the singer from The Slits. Me and Ari lived together in London after that and she invited me to become a member of the band and then it was just like a domino effect you know? Funnily enough the journey I am on now with The Cherry Thing is really reminiscent to what happened to me in those days. Each milestone has been a launch pad for the next.”
Let’s talk about Neneh’s milestones for a minute shall we? Neneh was a fixed member of the ‘Bristol Urban Culture’ scene which was way before the television program Skins. She worked on Massive Attack’s album Blue Lines and both Robert Del Naja and Andrew Vowles from Massive Attack contributed to Raw Like Sushi. Buffalo Stance won her a Brit Award and a Grammy nomination where she lost out to er… MILLI VANILLI. She went on to do another two solo albums Homebrew and Man, the latter featuring worldwide hit single 7 Seconds featuring Youssou N’Dour. Along with her husband Cameron and daughter Tyson, Neneh formed a band in 2006 called Cirkus which was big in France apparently. Neneh is a collaborating machine! She supplied some guest vocals on Pulp’s album This is Hardcore, she contributed to the track Kids with Guns on the Gorillaz album Demon Days and her Lindt Intense Strawberry Chocolate voice can also be found on a few Groove Armada tracks. I could go on and on about all her collaborations but that is an entire article in itself. I also want to fit in here somewhere that her brother is Eagle Eye Cherry and yes, that is his real name. He was a funny one that Don Cherry.
Now here she is with The Cherry Thing, yet another collaboration with jazz trio THE THING who amazingly got their name from a track by her father, Don Cherry. The album has eight songs, all jazz, all covers. Covers of Dirt by The Stooges, Golden Heart by Don Cherry and something that you never thought you would hear: a jazz cover of Accordion by MF Doom. If you like jazz and I mean you have to REALLY like jazz, then you will love this album. If you are expecting Neneh to be sporting door-knockers and spitting bars like she did on Buffalo Stance then think again! I asked Neneh if jazz is the genre where she has set up camp; “My idea of music is one without boundaries. The jazz we’re doing with The Cherry Thing is jazz that’s quite punky and soulful. Jazz is really deep within me and it’s important to come back to the thing that is part of my heritage and my upbringing, I really wanted to explore it.”
While jazz might not be for everybody, Neneh has never created anything with the intention of it becoming a worldwide sensation. She explains; “I think it’s really funny when I hear Buffalo Stance and I think about how it started. It was just this funny little idea that came to life that still gets played and still means something to people. I’m thankful that I have been part of it. All the things I have done are just pieces to the puzzle of an entire journey. For anyone who is creative it is important to feel proud of your work and it is also important to evolve. Also, you have to realise that once you have created it you don’t really own it and you don’t have any control over it… it’s just out there causing havoc. I like that. Then it’s onto the next thing.”
I could not believe that Neneh is now 48 years of age. I couldn’t see her but speaking to her, her voice carries so much wisdom but her inflections and bubbly laugh are tell-tale signs that she has found the key to the fountain of youth. Our conversation was cut short as she was about to leave for her gig in East London but not before she said there were plans to come to Australia next year and for me to blow Neneh the goldfish a kiss from her. Then when the line went dead I was left hoping that someday, I could be as cool as Neneh Cherry.
The Cherry Thing is available now through Fuse.