CHERRY BACK ON TOP Neneh Cherry

Pioneering Pop Queen Neneh Cherry Returns To The
Forefront to Pay Homage to Her Legendary Dad

 

BY RON HART

 

“It was a weird
experience,” proclaims European art pop queen Neneh Cherry in reference to
her 2011 appearance on The F Word,
the popular BBC cooking show hosted by the legendarily cantankerous master chef
Gordon Ramsay. “I mean I love to cook. Yet when you are in a professional
kitchen, the kind of experience of cooking is another dimension. Forget about
slowly chopping away in your kitchen and thinking about what you are going to
do later. I learned a lot, and he didn’t scream at me, so thank you for that,
Gordon (laughs).”

 

For many who tuned in to
catch the episode featuring Cherry (who was part of an amateur brigade with her
best friend Andrea Oliver, both of whom co-hosted their own six-part cookery
show on BBC Two in 2007 called Neneh and
Andi — Dish It Up
), her appearance marked their first glimpse of the
Swedish-born songstress in over 15 years. Indeed, she has been active creatively
since the release of her last proper album, 1996’s Man, appearing on the projects of a diverse range of acts including
Craig Armstrong, Pulp, Timo Maas, Groove Armada, Peter Gabriel, Live frontman
Ed Kowalczyk and, most significantly, Gorillaz on their 2005 sophomore
masterpiece Demon Days, as well as a
pair of underrated LPs with her family band CirKus with her longtime husband
and producer Cameron “Booga Bear” McVey, their daughter Tyson and her
boyfriend Matt “Karmil” Kent.  But for those who have been
following Cherry’s career since her days as a member of such revered post-punk
acts as The Slits, Rip, Rig & Panic and the New Age Steppers on through to
her groundbreaking career as a solo artist where she decimated the boundaries
of R&B, hip-hop and art pop as an early architect of the Bristol trip-hop
movement (both Geoff Barrow of Portishead and 3D of Massive Attack, who saw
Cherry and Booga Bear bankroll the recording of their groundbreaking 1991 debut
Blue Lines, got their starts with her), Neneh’s return as a marquee act
has been a long time coming.

 

This summer, Cherry
makes a comeback for the ages by picking up the baton of her stepfather, the
late avant-garde trumpet great Don Cherry, and venturing into jazz territory
with Cherry Thing, a mesmerizing
collection of originals and covers in collaboration with fellow Swedes The
Thing, the trio of Aylerian sax giant Mats Gustafsson, bassist Ingebrigt Håker
Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums that reinvents songs by a diverse array
of artists ranging from MF Doom to The Stooges to Suicide to Martina
Topley-Bird to Ornette Coleman to papa Cherry. For the singer, The Thing–who
are named, in fact, after a track from one of the senior Cherry’s finest LPs,
1966’s Where Is Brooklyn? on Blue Note–provided the perfect vessel for this zigzag through her
musical mind.

 

“They have this punk
rock element, this fearlessness, and I think that’s why we work so well
together,” she explains. “To me it all belongs together: jazz, hip-hop, punk.
It’s all about how you say it and where you take it. When we first went into
the studio together it felt a little bit like I’d come back home. The whole
journey for me has been a fucking joy, because those guys are really into my
dad’s music. He’s been a really big inspiration to them, and its been great
tapping into my heritage with them but taking my own story to the place as
they’ve done.”

 

And while it might not
have been as direct as it is on Cherry
Thing
, Don Cherry’s sonic influence on his beloved stepdaughter was
resonant throughout the entire course of her 30-plus year career.

 

“Don was always playing
music and showing me things and getting me to sing things,” she remembers. “And
that was always a really big part of how we shared time was through music. Don
would actually go to the record store and bring back a lot of the records that
then became my records. He bought my first Chaka Kahn album, the one that
“I’m Every Woman” was on, and the Pretenders’ first record, we’d just
sit and listen together.”

 

As of today, there’s no
word on when her three classic genre-bending solo albums-1989’s Raw Like Sushi, 1992’s Homebrew and the aforementioned Man-will be receiving a long-overdue
reissue campaign, Cherry was more than happy to share a story of the time she
worked with The Notorious B.I.G. on one of his very first appearances on
acetate, a remix of her Lenny Kravitz-bashing single “Buddy X”.

 

“Me and Booga Bear were
living in Fort Greene at the time, and we went to pick
up Biggie in Bed Stuy to take him to the studio.,” she recalls. “He was
standing on the stoop, and got into our Volvo and rolled a big blunt. I
remember we were playing some of the demos of the second Massive Attack album
for him and he was freestyling to them in the car. Then we got to the studio in
Midtown and Q-Tip was there and was like ‘Yo!’ and Busta Rhymes was in the
other studio. Busta Rhymes came out and was hugging Biggie and stuff. But when
he left, Biggie went, ‘Ooh, I don’t like him–he’s too touchy, man (laughs).'”

 

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