Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

She was a star at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, then she disappeared. What happened to Neneh Cherry?

When, in the late 1980s, record company managers required female artists to be unrivaled objects of desire for the male part of the audience, the singer, as if in defiance of these expectations, appeared on the popular program “Top of the Pops” in an advanced stage of pregnancy and performed her hit “Buffalo Stance “.

This speech caused quite a storm in the British press, where her response to a reporter’s question about whether it was safe to be on stage in her condition was quoted: “Seven months of pregnancy, it’s not a disease.” Neneh Cherry broke a kind of taboo that was still present in public space in the early 1990s.

Here, a young pregnant woman does not intend to sit at home and patiently count down the days until the birth, serving her husband dinner, but consciously takes her life into her own hands and does it in front of millions of viewers. “I remember standing there on stage, thinking, I’m pregnant and I feel energized, proud and very, very feminine. I’m not leaving anywhere, this is my place,” she recalled years later in an interview for The Guardian.

Neneh Cherry had an excellent sense and ability to observe the world, and she turned her observations and opinions into excellent texts. As if following suit, the next single hit “Manchild” was a continuation of her women’s liberation crusade and a perfect definition of toxic masculinity. She often met people with mediocre talent and excessive ambitions in the privacy of offices. They were the heroes of her song. The music video showed the artist dressed casually, with a towel in her hair, singing against the background of drying laundry and hugging her daughter.

She didn’t look like a shiny rising pop star, but an average suburban girl who had just washed her hair and was doing ordinary household chores with a baby in her arms. However, she had strength and a twinkle in her eye that made the composition climb to the top of the charts, instantly becoming another women’s anthem.

Years have passed, but it seems that the topics highlighted by Neneh Cherry on her debut album are still relevant. Two years ago, in an interview with The Telegraph, she commented on this: “The Western world is completely obsessed with some kind of alien-produced version of youth and beauty. It makes me allergic to these kinds of old-fashioned and sexist stereotypes. I am who I am.” “I am, and even though my body is getting older, I value other values ​​that have brought me this far. Times change, but some things don’t.”

The hit songs returned in 2022 on the album “The Versions”, where Cherry is supported by other strong and important women who have dominated the music scene in recent years. Robyn, Sia, Jamila Woods Whether Anohni they reinterpret the star’s artistic achievements. New versions bring iconic compositions closer to the young generation, and some of them, such as “Woman”, still sound fresh and current.

If we look at Neneh Cherry’s discography, it doesn’t look too impressive for a career spanning over forty years. This is the result of a conscious decision by the artist who, after the success of her first three albums at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, withdrew from her active career at the beginning of the 21st century to devote herself to raising her daughters. The artist mentioned many times in interviews that she saw how quickly her children were growing up and she simply wanted to be an important part of their lives.

When she decided to return, her new work was significantly different from what she had previously accustomed her fans to. Her, as she says, most important role in life as the mother of three daughters was the focal point of her career choices. Besides, she never believed that the recording industry was a healthy environment in which to live. “The pressure is enormous. It’s a space that can often be very toxic, unhealthy competitive and even deadly. People sacrifice their souls to achieve success, and once you achieve it, you can easily lose yourself. It’s like walking on thin ice. It’s not for sensitive people with heart and soul. After all, we are all delicate,” she said in an interview with The Telegraph.

Two men played important roles in Neneh Cherry’s life. The first one was her stepfather. Don Cherry he was an outstanding jazz musician. In the 1950s he performed with a saxophonist Ornette Colemanthen with other artists, including John Coltrane. Music was his whole life, maybe that’s why he supported his stepdaughter’s activities, and when she moved to London as a teenager, he soon appeared by her side, always supporting her in all her life and artistic decisions.

The second one turned out to be an accident met at the airport Cameron McVey, musician and renowned producer who became a devoted partner, not only in his private life, but also in his professional life. For years, Cherry and McVey have been a close-knit duo that has also turned into a production company The Nomad Productions. Cameron co-wrote and produced the artist’s first albums. According to Neneh, he has the gift of writing elegant songs and the extraordinary strength to implement the projects he sets for himself.

The success of “Raw Like Sushi” not only strengthened the couple’s finances, but also enabled the creation of their debut album Massive Attack “Blue Lines”, the production of which was financed by Cherry and McVey. Maybe that’s why in the artist’s Stockholm apartment there are gold records for “Buffalo Stance” and an album by the Bristol band hanging next to each other. “It’s good to have a song like this, the royalties from the recording still help pay our rent,” she joked in an interview with the New York Times.

Neneh Cherry’s period of apparent musical absence was not entirely devoid of artistic trials. Together with her husband and daughter Lolita Moon (currently using a pseudonym TYSON) co-created a trip-hop project CiRkus, and in cooperation with the Swedish jazz band The Thing, she recorded the album “The Cherry Thing”, which was very well received by fans of this musical style. It was only the death of her mother in 2009 that became the turning point that decided that Neneh Cherry returned to the stage full-time. She felt that the emotional baggage of recent years was so strong that she decided to turn it into lyrics. The result was the first solo album in 18 years, “Blank Project”. The slightly more ascetic album, based mainly on rhythm and vocals, met with enthusiastic reviews from journalists and showed a less rebellious and more reflective side of the artist.

One month after the presidential inauguration Trump, the artist’s fifth album “Broken Politics” was released. Recorded in New York’s Creative Music Studio, where Don Cherry was a frequent guest years ago, the album was a kind of response to all the unrest symbolized by the American politician. Neneh Cherry again precisely defined and talked about the problems she saw in the surrounding world. The refugee crisis, abortion, easy access to weapons, the fight against emerging disinformation and the ever-present phenomenon of fighting for women’s rights dominated the topics on the album. The artist’s voice on the album is calm, the music is delicate and atmospheric, which makes the message of “Broken Politics” reach the listeners much stronger thanks to this contrast.

Neneh Cherry comes from a singing family. Her siblings, as if fulfilling Don Cherry’s musical will, successfully pursue their artistic careers. Despite the fact that the artist herself stated years ago that the recording industry was a toxic environment, her daughters also entered the stage. Tyson McVey she already has one album under her belt, and she’s younger Mabel McVey two, with the big hit “Don’t Call Me Up”, which reached number 3 in the UK Chart.

After the release of the already mentioned retrospective album “The Versions”, the singer felt the desire to return to the recording studio again. In interviews she announces that new material may be released soon, but for now she has spent the last few months polishing her autobiographical book. “A Thousand Threads – A Memoir” is scheduled for release in September.

Neneh Cherry will take readers on a journey that begins in an old school building in Sweden, where she was born, through her biological father’s home village in Sierra Leone and the streets of New York where she grew up, to the punk clubs of London, where she began her musical adventure.