Neneh Cherry Has So Much More History In Her “Buffalo Stance”

neneh1Photography by Heidi Jewell.
The story of the Cherry family, at this point, is something of musical legend. Neneh is the gorgeous, Swedish-born, London/NYC-raised stepdaughter of groundbreaking jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, who ensured she spent her young childhood interacting with folks like Miles Davis and Allen Ginsberg. Her mother was an artist and her father was a Sierra Leonean drummer who was born in the West African bush. Her brother grew up to be Eagle-Eye, of "Save Tonight" fame, and she ended up writing one of the catchiest, most emblematic songs of the late '80s, "Buffalo Stance."
But, aside from "lookin' good today, lookin' good in every way," Nenah also was known for fusing rap with freestyle and being a die-hard, unapologetic feminist. When she played on Top Of The Pops pregnant — a first — there was outcry. Someone asked her if such a thing was safe. She replied, "Yes, of course! It's not an illness." Ahead, we caught up with Cherry backstage at the Pitchfork Music Festival and got the chance to talk about her new record, Blank Space.

What strikes you about the way young listeners seek out new music these days? How is it different from when you were younger?

"I think that one thing that’s interesting about today is that music is a lot less categorized then it was. You know, people that are into dance music might also listen to jazz, so audiences can be broader. Maybe there is also a downside. There is a kind of full speed that we consume at now, which I think sometimes is kind of difficult. People just sort of go through things. So, what you were listening to three days ago isn’t necessarily what you’re going to listen to tomorrow. There is a huge, really fast turnover, and that’s different.

"I don’t think that we get the sort of die-hard fan culture in the same way. People like a lot of things. But, it’s been kind of cool going out with this album and doing the kind of gigs that I’ve been doing, especially at festivals, feeling like there are people who have listened to music over the years, but there are also new people coming in. Sometimes, if you’re playing a festival, people just get stuck and stay."

Why Pitchfork? Why this particular festival?

"I think Pitchfork is where I go and look for music. For us, it’s been an honor to be invited."

Your new album has a lot of really beautiful moments of sadness and of anger, especially with your voice and range. Do you think this is your most emotional record to date?
"I think that it’s the most naked record. It wasn’t made in a way where we went back and re-polished things and went over the rough edges. It was about unleashing a bunch of stuff. I feel like I was releasing pain and looking at the quirky sides of life, and learning how to laugh again and cry a bit, kick out a bit. The songs were written in a way that were almost like a stream of consciousness. I wrote quite a lot of it with my husband, Cameron. We would just sit next to each other with a laptop each, writing lyrics. I was trying to get into a thing where I was just letting my subconscious go, meandering. We would shape what we wrote, and make songs out of it. So, I think there is this thing, like, wandering up a street, talking to yourself.

"Maybe it had to be like that a little bit because it was a long time since I made a solo record, and I knew how I wanted it to feel. But, I think I also could have ended up being in a place where I was self-conscious or overanalyzing it all a bit too much. Because there is a kind of an enormity, when you get to that thing and you’re like, 'Okay, now this is it. I’m gonna go for it.' Doing it in this way was a simple way. I really feel like it’s brought me to the next phase in making music, doing stuff, creating things. I feel uncorked. That freedom is quite powerful. And, I know that it’s not perfect, it’s not flawless."

Blank Project is out now.

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