Neneh Cherry flits from punk, rap and pop to dance and funk. Next month she lands in Launceston to continue her soulful musical flight
The much acclaimed Swedish singer is on her way to Tassie for Mona Foma in Launceston.
Suffering through the early stages of a London winter, Neneh Cherry is relying on Tasmania’s summer to thaw her when she visits Launceston for Mona Foma 2019. “I’ve just come back from visiting Sweden for a few days and now I’m back in Old Blighty in the rain,” she laughs. “So yeah, the very thought of an Australian summer is saving my life right now!” The Swedish singer and rapper has a career spanning over three decades, crossing genres from punk, rap and pop to dance and funk, and she will headline summer’s MoFo when the popular music and arts festival is held in the North for the first time.
Moving to the UK as a teenager, she started performing with punk bands and deejaying, eventually starting her solo career in 1982. Her breakout hit, Buffalo Stance, was released in 1988, the mainstream exposure making her a household name. Some of her other hits include 7 Seconds (1994), Woman (1996) and Kisses On The Wind (1989).
Her MoFo show, on January 19, will feature a bit of everything. “Most of what we are doing will be from the new album Broken Politics, which came out this year,” she says. Probably 80 per cent of the show will be new stuff and then there will be a few golden oldies as well.”
The 54-year-old singer laughs at herself when she realises she is referring to her own work as “golden oldies”.
“I know, it’s a bit strange, but it really is getting to be like that! Right about now it is 30 years since Buffalo Stance came out. It’s weird, I dunno how I feel about that. To be perfectly honest, feels like it was just yesterday, not that long ago, but it’s on paper! It was 30 years ago. And I was pregnant at the time and that child will be 30 in March, so I can’t deny it.
Her earliest hit, Buffalo Stance is still probably her most recognisable song, and while very much a product of its era, it is still popular among the current generation of retro-loving young people. “The fact that people still know it is just one of the most uplifting things for me. That song in particular has this extended umbilical cord, it has these waves when it resurfaces and kids rediscover it. It’s nice when someone in their 20s can still get something from that. I don’t know that I ever go out of my way to deliberately make something that is timeless, I don’t think any artist really does, but it certainly is the dream, it’s incredible when it happens.”
While Cherry’s music has always been influenced by what is popular at the time, it also tends to transcend the popular styles and genres, crossing over into less contemporary styles, such as reworking old soul classics or incorporating world music.
She says her music is constantly evolving.
“I’m not trying to fit in to certain trends or to adapt myself to what is the ‘cool thing’ or the sound of the moment. I guess I just try to reinterpret what I’m influenced by, what’s happening around me. I come from an experimental background, being born into the family that I was. My dad was a jazz musician, mum was an artist, so I grew up in a very experimental environment.
“So I think I will always be attracted to that idea, of being nonconformist rather than repeating myself, trying to push that boat out and take risks, not playing things too safe or getting too comfortable or settled. Mostly I feel like I’m always learning and feeling like there’s still so many things to do.”
Her current album, Broken Politics, is a deliberately political and provocative record, lamenting current world events and serving as an outlet for Cherry’s frustrations.
“It’s soulful and definitely reflective and a lot of the lyrical material definitely resonates with the effect of things I’m soaking up that are happening around the world. In making this record I think we made a conscious choice to take a lot of those feelings that were coming from confusion or anger or frustration or heartbreak and making something beautiful with those feelings and expressions.
“It is natural and organic and gentle but still turning things on its head occasionally. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek as well, you have to have some playfulness in there.”
Cherry’s constant reinvention and experimental nature makes her a perfect fit for Mona Foma and she says she is looking forward to experiencing the festival for herself, having heard about it from others who have performed there over the years.
“I’ve been to Australia before but never Tasmania. I was in Australia about three years ago with my last album and we did a few festivals, in Melbourne, WOMADelaide and then to Perth.
“I’m going to be in Australia for a few weeks over summer. As well as MoFo we are doing a few shows in other parts of the country, so as always it’s a visit that’s crammed full of schedules and shows, but it would be nice to be able to spend at least a few minutes looking around Tassie and just enjoying being there.”
Neneh Cherry is performing at Mona Foma on January 19, 9pm, on the laykila Stage, Inveresk Precinct, Launceston. Her performance is included in the Three Day Festival Ticket or Day Pass. Visit mofo.net.au for more details and bookings.