It might not be a surprise that Neneh Cherry has become an icon, considering her upbringing: stepdaughter of trumpeter Don Cherry, Neneh enjoyed a peripatetic childhood between New York, London and Sweden surrounded by jazz greats like Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman. But what is surprising, is the way in which her influence has permeated, as a pioneer of cross-genre experimentation. Below, we examine the collaborative creativity Cherry still espouses to this day.
Throughout her life, Cherry’s curiosity has made her a node of creativity, a Zelig-like figure who can associate with personalities as disparate as Allen Ginsberg and Ari Up, stylist Judy Blame and Portishead’s producer supreme Geoff Barrow. But she’s not a dabbler. Instead, Cherry can be thought of as a kind of modern representation of jazz itself. Jazz has always been about cross-pollination, a kind of new American art that blended African sensibilities with European traditional elements. But as a form of expression it demands definition only on its own terms, something that’s true of Cherry herself, too. Her varied career, encompassing innovative pop, dance and a cookery show, has defied limitations, and attempting to make comparisons with other stars of the 1980s can prove fruitless. Much like jazz, trying to view Cherry within parameters of mainstream music is impossible, instead she stands alone, forging a new path for others to follow.
Her pioneering attitude first emerged with Buffalo Stance in 1988. In the video, a 24-year-old Cherry poses in doorknocker earrings, crop tops and a dollar sign necklace. The song captured a moment, crystallising a tough, street 80s London spirit that centred around Cherry, stylist Ray Petri and their gang. Raw Like Sushi, the album that followed, featured a cover shot by fashion photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino, and Cherry’s status as a streetwear provocateur was sealed. 26 years on, she is still working within those terms. But nowadays she opts for designers like Christopher Shannon and Ann-Sofie Back, proving that you can stay true to your roots while still evolving with the times.
She’s AnOther Woman Because…
Neneh Cherry has never been afraid of being herself, with beautiful candid honesty. She burst on to the scene with a tough, edgy attitude, but in her musical projects in recent years, she has addressed her own vulnerability after the death of her mother, Swedish artist Moki Karlsson, and the effect that music can have on our emotions. There’s a raw humanity in much of Cherry’s music, and the fact that she consistently chooses to share this with her creative collaborators shows that we could all learn from a more collective, cooperative approach to both life and art.