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Neneh Cherry in June 2008
|Birth name||Neneh Mariann Karlsson|
|Born|| 10 March 1964 |
Alternative hip hop
Neneh Cherry in June 2008
|Birth name||Neneh Mariann Karlsson|
|Born|| 10 March 1964 |
Alternative hip hop
Cherry was born in Stockholm, the daughter of Monica "Moki" Cherry (née Karlsson), a Swedish painter and textile artist, and Amahdu Jah, a Sierra Leonean drummer. Jah was born in the Sierra Leone bush, the son of a chief. He came to Stockholm to study engineering at university.
Cherry has a half-sister, singer Titiyo, and half-brother, record producer Cherno Jah, from her father Amahdu Jah's marriage to Maylen Jah (née Bergström). Cherry also has a half-brother, musician Eagle-Eye Cherry, a stepsister, violinist Jan Cherry, and a stepbrother, jazz musician David Ornette Cherry from stepfather Don Cherry's side.
Cherry's parents, Moki and Don Cherry, bought a house in 1970 in the countryside outside the small town of Hässleholm in Sweden, in an old schoolhouse that was built in the turn of the century. On her home, "The way they were, with their creativity, their art...the music, and their idea of how they wanted to live, was all very much connected. They had an idea that they wanted to create together, with other people. So our house was an 'open house.' A lot of people visited, a lot of musicians came. That upbringing has definitely filtered through into who I am and the way I live."
The family later moved to England, settling in Pudsey, West Yorkshire. In the early 1970s, they moved to the United States, when Don Cherry taught at Dartmouth. Cherry recollects: "So we always came back to New York, where his peers were, like Ornette Coleman. In 1977, we moved into a permanent place, a loft in Long Island City. Talking Heads and Ernie Brooks of the Modern Lovers lived in the same building."
Cherry said she found her voice singing along with Poly Styrene from X-Ray Spex. She grew up in a musical family: "Music was always there, it was like food in my house. But in my home I had never really found my own thing. I really identified with Poly, the voice. Culturally, she was mixed. I recognized her when I looked at her. One day I was singing along to their records, Germfree Adolescents or Oh Bondage Up Yours!, but I found my voice. And I'll never forget it happening." Her dad was singing at the piano, playing "Put Another Nickel in the Nickelodeon." Cherry remembers singing it with him in the voice she had found. "Oh look, I have a voice, it's been born. It was like an ejection, like a release button. It was like, here you go, do your own thing."
Cherry moved to London at the tail end of the punk era. She was about 16 when she moved to England, and she remembers finding "her people" there. Cherry had met Tessa and Viv and Ari from The Slits earlier as her stepdad, Don Cherry, was touring with them and brought the 15 year old Neneh along. Ari and her lived in a squat in Battersea. She felt really at home, had ended up there because The Slits invited her stepfather, Don Cherry, to be on a tour with them with Prince Hammer and Creation Rebel.
In London, Cherry joined the punk rock band The Cherries. She moved through several bands, including The Slits, New Age Steppers, Rip Rig + Panic, and Float Up CP. She also deejayed, playing early rap music on the reggae pirate Dread Broadcasting Corporation.
She began a solo career with "Stop the War", a protest song about the Falkland Islands. She also worked with Jonny Dollar, The The and musician Cameron McVey (a.k.a. Booga Bear), who co-wrote most of her 1989 debut album Raw Like Sushi, and whom she would eventually marry. She was intimately involved in the Bristol Urban Culture scene, working as an arranger on Massive Attack's Blue Lines album, through which she met Dollar. Both Robert Del Naja and Andrew Vowles of Massive Attack contributed to Raw Like Sushi.
The single "Buffalo Stance" was an international blockbuster. "Buffalo Stance" eventually peaked at number 3 in the UK Singles Chart, and the US Billboard Hot 100, and number 1 on the US Dance chart. More singles released between 1988 and 1990 included "Manchild," "Kisses on the Wind," "Heart," and "Inna City Mama." She also found success with "I've Got You Under My Skin" (produced by Morris Temple of The Guards fame), a reworking of the Cole Porter song, which appeared on the Red Hot + Blue AIDS fundraising album. The single reached number 25 in the UK. Cherry was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1990 in the Best New Artist Category; she lost out to Milli Vanilli, who later had their Grammy revoked when it was discovered that they had not performed on their recording. She won a Brit Award in 1990 for Raw Like Sushi.
Cherry caused a press furore when she performed "Buffalo Stance" on Top of the Pops while pregnant (with her second child, Tyson). Cherry said: "I remember some doctor saying that what Neneh Cherry's doing could cause her child harm, that sort of bollocks. But I feel really proud of having done that. I didn't feel being pregnant took anything away from my sexuality, who I am, the woman. It felt like a positive thing to celebrate it."
On the appearance: "When I found out I was pregnant, my mother said, 'Don't separate your life, the life that you're going to make with this child, from the things that you are and what you want to do,'" she says. "Getting on Top of the Pops and having that feeling with me was such a saving grace. I was aware of all the entrapments, being suddenly on my own in the spotlight, not working as part of the collective any more. But I remember standing there pregnant, and feeling charged by it – and proud, and very feminine, very woman. I thought, I'm not going to go away. I'm not going to go away."
Cherry's second album was 1992's Homebrew. Homebrew was not as commercially successful as its predecessor. The album had some success on the dance charts with songs "Buddy X" and "Trout." "Buddy X" was a bigger hit years later in a remix by Dreem Teem and on college radio the "Trout" duet with Michael Stipe was popular. Homebrew included the work of Geoff Barrow (on "Somedays"), who would later become part of Portishead.
The single, "Buddy X," was remixed by Biggie Smalls, and is considered to be "one of the great Biggie rarities in the world." Cherry said she and McVey were there for the session, that they picked up Biggie to go to the studio. "Biggie got on and did it in one take. I think if we did two takes, then it was just for posterity. The rest is kind of history." There was a video that played on MTV for the original album track that features a row of women versus a row of men: at the end Cherry throws her panties at one of the guys.
1996's Man is a solo record produced by McVey and Jonny Dollar. The lead track is "Woman", her take on James Brown's 1966 track "It's a Man's Man's Man's World." It featured the worldwide hit single, "7 Seconds", featuring Youssou N'Dour; and "Trouble Man" a cover of a Marvin Gaye track. "7 Seconds" remained at number 1 in France for a record 17 weeks in 1994. Another track, "Together Now", featured Tricky.
Cherry received her second Grammy nomination in 1994 for "7 Seconds". In the MTV Europe Music Awards in 1994, "7 Seconds" won the Best Song title.
Neneh Chérie Remixes, a remix album of Man songs, was released in 1997.
Blank Project was written by Cherry and her husband McVey. "They wrote much of the album side by side on the sofa. Instrumentally sparse, but full of pounding tribal rhythms, it is both dark and airy; lyrics appear to be intensely personal." Paul Simm co-wrote 6 tracks on the record. The record was deeply influenced by the death of her mother.
On doing a solo record after such a long time: "I’ve always been doing stuff, being creative. But I got to the point where I starting to feel this longing, craving, itchy feeling—which was the first sign that it was time. I've made a few attempts to make other solo records, but when I've looked back at the body of work I've always felt like I was never quite there. But now I feel like I’m inside these songs—they embody the place that I’m living in right now."
To promote the album, she announced a European tour for February and March 2014.
The Cherry Bear Collective, Cherry's former company with McVey, is now called Nomad Productions and is based in west London.
In 2006, Cherry announced the formation of a new band, cirKus. In addition to Cherry, cirKus members are Cameron McVey, Lolita Moon (Neneh and Cameron's daughter Tyson) plus Karmil. CirKus has toured Europe, with a single North American performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival in July 2006 plus a few dates in Brazil in 2008. The band's first album, Laylow, was released in France in 2006. A remixed/recorded version was released in 2007. A second CirKus album, Medicine, was released in France in March 2009.
In March 2011, Cherry collaborated with the experimental jazz group The Thing, to release the record The Cherry Thing. Cherry said "The Thing were really up for doing something together, which was a massive honour. I feel a righteous connection with the wildness of what they do." The Thing is a Norwegian/Swedish jazz trio, consisting of Mats Gustafsson (saxophones), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (double bass), and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums). The Thing took their name from the third track on stepfather, Don Cherry's first solo record, Where Is Brooklyn?. The album The Cherry Thing was released in June 2012 and was recorded at Harder Sound Studios in London, England and Atlantis Studios in Stockholm, Sweden.
During a June 1, 2012, interview with Kirsty Lang, broadcast as part of the BBC Radio 4's Front Row Daily podcast, Cherry discussed the jazz-inspired album, saying that The Thing were inspired by Cherry's stepfather's work, but the band makes this inspiration their own. "I think that we're taking it on, to another place. I think that's really important." Cherry said. One of the songs from this album, "Golden Heart," was written by Don Cherry. Christer Bothén, a musician who played with Don Cherry, was invited to play on the album, and brought the song to their attention. Most of the tracks were recorded together, live. But the song had no lyrics, so The Thing recorded it instrumentally, and Neneh Cherry went off and wrote them, with the idea that the lyrics were "almost like a prayer." The album is eclectic: they cover a track by hip-hop artist MF Doom on the record and another by Martina Topley-Bird . "The tunes stretch out, they go where they go, but we wanted the whole record to feel like a bit of a punch. It's fairly wild, but also fairly compact." There is another cover of Dream Baby Dream by electropunk duo Suicide, a version of Stooges' Dirt. Cherry said, "It was important for us, it needed to be relevant. I think that for me, I try to ignore the borders of music, as much as I can."
Although Cherry has only released a handful of albums, she has frequently collaborated with other artists. On Cherry's work between solo albums: "she's been a muse, an inspiration and a vital collaborator in the margins of UK pop, urban music and beyond since the late 80s."
In 2013, Cherry collaborated with London duo RocketNumberNine (named after a Sun Ra track), aka the Page Brothers, Ben and Tom Page, to record an album MeYouWeYou. She also joined them to perform the entire album live at the Manchester International Festival in July 2013. The record is an album of 10 tracks that Cherry wrote with McVeigh that they brought to RocketNumberNine with only vocals, and then they did their musical interpretation to all the tracks. They recorded the album in Woodstock, New York with Vortex as a live thing. 10 tracks in 5 days. It's organic, progressive electronic music. Cherry calls it fearless and hardcore.
Cherry said she has never really thought of herself as a rapper. She's someone who raps, and she says she loves it. But she says she sees herself as a "singer that does a bit of rapping." When you're singing the melody and the words have to marry with each other, she likes the contrast between the two.
Breaking into the U.S. music industry was not a positive experience for Cherry. She said that while “Buffalo Stance” gave her a mainstream crossover moment in the U.S. she found the American music industry stiflingly attached to labels and genre identities. “We went over [to America] with our funny little posse from London,” she says, “And in the black department, [“Buffalo Stance”] wasn’t black enough, and in the white department it was too black. So it was this weird middle satellite, floating around.”
On what's next: Cherry shrugs and says, “I’m allergic to doing the obvious thing.”
Cherry said, "It isn’t like I’ve been on hold for seventeen years – I’ve been doing lots. I’ve been working, and I chose to do a lot of stuff that was collaborative."
In 1983, Cherry married The Bank drummer Bruce Smith and had daughter, Naima. They divorced in 1984. Cherry's daughter, Naima, is a London-based photographer, who had son Louis Clyde Flynn Love (who goes by Flynn) in 2004.
In 1987, Cherry met producer Cameron "Booga Bear" McVey at Heathrow Airport. Cherry and McVey were en route to Japan, as fashion models as part of London designer Ray Petri's Buffalo Posse. Cherry proposed, and the two married in 1990. Cherry and McVey had two daughters Tyson, born in 1989, and Mabel, born in 1996. Cherry and McVey have a collaborative work relationship: McVey produced and co-wrote Raw Like Sushi. Together they have supported a variety of British acts and they were in the group cirKus together. Via McVey's prior relationship with Vonnie Roudette, Cherry has a stepson, Marlon Roudette, who fronts the British duo Mattafix.
The Cherry-McVeys have lived throughout Europe. In 1993, they moved near Malaga, Spain and lived there until 1999. In 1995, they briefly lived in New York City. They bought a home in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, New York. Soon after moving in, the couple was held up at gunpoint and robbed by a teenage bandit. The entire family packed up again and headed back to London's Primrose Hill.
They next returned to Cherry's childhood home in Hässleholm, Sweden, living in the same schoolhouse turned home (featured in Homebrew album artwork) that Cherry was raised as a child.
On her nomadic lifestyle: "In London I’m always going to go there for the creative source. I have my tribe there. I miss New York like I miss an old lover. I think once that city has gotten under your skin it’s hard to let go. I use it a lot as a landscape when I’m writing lyrics. And then Sweden – that still is my family home. It’s a place that doesn’t really change that much. That’s the kind of heartbeat."
The family has a country house near Birmingham and Wolverhampton, apartments in London and Stockholm, plus the family home in the old schoolhouse in Skåne County that she and her brother inherited when her mother died in 2009. As of 2014, Cherry says she commutes between London and Stockholm. "Me and Cameron, my husband and work friend, set up house in Stockholm about seven years ago." Their residence is in Stockholm's Mariatorget district but is "simply the Swedish base camp of a huge nomadic family with its roots in the 1960s." On this communal way of life, Cherry says: "It seems unusual to people who weren't brought up in that large collective to work out how it works," she concedes, "but ever since I was tiny I've lived around a lot of people, so that's the way the music gets made too."
On her street style, Cherry cites LL Cool J as an influencer whose style she borrowed from, as well as the photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino, the afore-mentioned Judy Blame, and designer Ray Petri. She says: "Arabic, Indian, African and Hip Hop's melodic scales have always soared through me. I find them so beautiful and my style is kind of the same mix."