I used to torture my mother on long car trips to G-ma’s house with my Neneh Cherry’s tape, Raw Like Sushi. Not only would we have to listen to both sides numerous times, but I would also rewind “Buffalo Stance” at least once during the Cherry session to get a quick encore of the song. I would do the “rewind/fast forward” dance with the dial to get the song in juuuuust the right place to hear whole track in full again; I broke the timing of hitting the “stop” button down to a science with my fancy adolescent fingers. The most amazing part of the whole obsession with Neneh was that I was convinced the “Buffalo Stance” was the crouched, supine, “ready” position the players in the Buffalo Bills would get into when preparing to tackle. I really believed that it was this left-to right foot warm-up shuffle that Neneh was referring to, and it is highly probable that I tried this move out more than a few times in my room. Hey, at least it got me loose, low, and ready to hurt ‘em by the time Hammer came out.
Not only was I wrong about the posturing of the Buffalo Stance, I was also incorrect in assuming that the phrase was something silly Neneh came up with by herself. In fact, the song referred to a crew of models she used to work with while shooting with designer Ray Petri – and it was called the Buffalo Posse. Some sources say that “Buffalo” was a London rude boy fashion trend, while others maintain that a Buffalo refers to a gigolo in command of a group of prostitutes. Neneh says about the song: “It’s not a feminist record – none of my songs are. But it’s about female strength, female power, female attitude.” (http://www.geocities.com/miamaya_1999). It’s about the female taking the traditionally male role, flipping it, and rocking it out with a sexy attitude. This is perhaps why it was around this time that the press started referring to her as the “Black Madonna” (http://www.nenehcherry.de/neneh_bio.htm). She also challenged traditional beliefs about the pregnancy and sexuality when she appeared on the Top of the Pops 8 months pregnant by Rip, Rig & Panic musician Bruce Smith. (http://www.nenehcherry.de/neneh_bio.htm).
Neneh is not just innovative for her statement on gender roles. Her life is a melting pot of talents and cultures, which she weaved together to become the breath of fresh air the late ‘80’s needed. Neneh has a Swedish mother and a drummer father from Sierra Leone, but she is most often remembered as famed jazz musician Don Cherry’s stepdaughter and the sister of rocker Eagle Eye Cherry. Neneh dropped out of high school at 14 and moved to London, where she joined the punk rock band “The Slits” (3 A.M. Magazine, 2003) She performed with various other punk bands and DJ’d a rap music show on the pirate station Dread Broadcasting Corporation. She was involved in the Bristol Urban Culture scene, which was a movement centered around the trip-hop, drum and bass, and graffiti art in the area. It was around this time (1989) Neneh dropped the popular Raw Like Sushi, of which “Buffalo Stance” reached #1 on the American Dance charts. Neneh was literally ROBBED of the Grammy Award she deserved for Best New Artist in 1990, because she lost to none other than Milli Vanilli! And we ALL know that they had their Grammy revoked when their vocal feed track skizziped at a performance. So in essence, no one holds the title for Best New Artist for that year (http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Best_New_Artist). Don’t blame it on the rain, blame it on lip-synching. She DID win the Brit Award for Best Single and Best Female Vocalist in 1990, but also highly respected the music of her fellow nominees: “I had my Brit award for Raw Like Sushi made into jewelry and I gave Jazzie B a piece because Soul II Soul kicked ass that year. ‘Back To Life’ was No. 1 for weeks and they didn’t get one.” (Pacha Magazine, July, 2003). Other notable tracks in Neneh’s repertoire include “Manchild” and “Inna City Mama”, both of which have groundbreaking styling in the videos. It’s not clear whether she had a stylist, or whether she chose those outfits on her own, but she dug deep with those black skintight bratops, “trainers” or docs, cute jackets in jean, mustard-yellow, or emblazoned with a sports team, and there was, of course, all that GOLD. M.I.A. has groundbreaking style? Maybe, but it seems as though Neneh could have served as an inspiration for M.I.A.’s look.
The other album of Neneh’s that had quite an impact was Homebrew in 1992. The single “Buddy X” with its minimal production and chorus of shouting, discussed being in the role of “the jump-off”. It is rumored that Neneh wrote the song about Lenny Kravitz, which is not surprising, considering Neneh has a similar aesthetic as Lisa Bonet (Popservation.com). Kravitz co-wrote the song “Move With Me” on the same album, so we know she has met old boy! Around that time Neneh started wearing her signature headwraps, which were sometimes just flannel shirts made to look like headwraps. She pretty much made anything look cute, and was able to throw masculine elements into her wardrobe while still looking like a sex kitten.
Cherry claimed in a few interviews that she was bisexual (The Observer, May 9, 2004), but she ended up marrying producer Cameron McVey (who produced Portishead’s Dummy and Massive Attack’s Blue Lines) and still performs with him in a group called Cirkus. Neneh sang with The Gorillaz during their Demon Days Live concerts (2006), and has also worked with Eric Clapton, Chrissie Hynde, Groove Armada, Massive Attack, rapper Guru, Youssou N’Dour, Michael Stipe of R.E.M., and Tricky, among others. The cultured Neneh Cherry has spent time living in Sweden, England, and Spain. She lived with her husband and kids in Park Slope, Brooklyn in the ‘90s, but moved back to England after she was robbed at gunpoint in 1995. She now splits her time between Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and London.
After all these years, she still has the beautiful smile. Unlike most women, she embraces the changes in her appearance as she ages, saying: “It’s no longer about what you drape around your body. It’s what shines through your eyes and comes out of your mouth.” (http://www.nenehcherry.de/neneh_bio.htm). We still think that when she was draped up back in the day, she draped oh so well.
Check out these Neneh videos and bask in the outfit glory!
Click to watch “Manchild”
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