NE­NEH CHER­RY A CRY IN THE DARK­NESS

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A per­for­mer sans fron­tières, Ne­neh Cher­ry has just re­lea­sed her new al­bum, Bro­ken Po­li­tics, af­ter four years away from the re­cor­ding stu­dio. A ma­gis­te­rial disc, it up­dates her trip- hop groove for to­day’s trou­bled times. With her cus­to­ma­ry ele­gance, Cher­ry shares her emo­tion with res­pect to the world’s ma­ny in­jus­tices, len­ding her voice to those who are wi­thout one.

In­ter­view by Thi­baut Wy­cho­wa­nok, por­traits by Wolf­gang Till­mans The su­blime per­for­mer, who first achie­ved fame 24 years ago with the hits Wo­man and 7 Se­conds along­side Yous­sou N’Dour, is back af­ter four years’ ab­sence. And her new al­bum, Bro­ken Pol i t ics, is ma­gis­te­rial. Sup­por­ted, as al­ways, by her hus­band Ca­me­ron McVey, as well as by Bri­tish pro­du­cer Four Tet (as was the case on her last al­bum), the Lon­don- ba­sed Swede has pro­du­ced a new, contem­po­ra­ry take on her trip- hop years in the path bla­zed by Mas­sive At­tack. Mo­reo­ver 3D, a mem­ber of the my­thic Bris­tol- ba­sed group, co- si­gned the al­bum’s first single, Kong. As for Four Tet, he brings his unique mix of elec­tro­ni­ca, lan­guid­ness and control­led vio­lence, which per­fect­ly com­ple­ments Ne­neh Cher­ry’s fie­ry ele­gance. But above all this an al­bum by a po­li­ti­cal­ly conscious and en­ga­ged wo­man, who samples the words of the 1960s Afro-Ame­ri­can group The Last Poets on her track Poem Dad­dy: “Bles­sed are those who struggle/ Op­pres­sion is worse than the grave/ Bet­ter to die for a noble cause/ Than to live and die a slave.” NU­MÉ­RO: On this new al­bum, which is ve­ry po­li­ti­cal­ly en­ga­ged, you make re­fe­rence among other things to the mi­grant cri­sis. And you were al­so present at the “jungle” in Ca­lais… NE­NEH CHER­RY:

I spent se­ve­ral days there with my best friend pre­pa­ring meals for the re­fu­gees. For three whole days I pee­led car­rots. The kit­chen where we were wor­king fed 1,800 people... On our last day, we ac­com­pa­nied the team who dis­tri­bu­ted the meals in the jungle. You can ima­gine how in­tense it was. Ter­rible... But far worse for the people li­ving there. It was the middle of win­ter, it was free­zing cold, and the re­fu­gees were in their flim­sy shel­ters des­pe­ra­te­ly trying to keep warm. Bits of blue plas­tic, woo­den ca­bins. A man was stan­ding in his door­way. He came over and said, “Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?” Hu­ma­ni­ty is ex­tra­or­di­na­ry! Does your new al­bum ref lect a more ac­tive po­li­ti­cal en­ga­ge­ment on your part? I’m not an ac­ti­vist. All I do is get in­vol­ved with causes that cross my path. In June 2017 Gren­fell To­wer burnt down in the Lon­don bo­rough of Ken­sing­ton. Se­ven­ty- one people died. It was a tra­ge­dy that tou­ched my com­mu­ni­ty, and so like ma­ny in my com­mu­ni­ty I vo­lun­tee­red to help the vic­tims. To the extent that my conscience and my voice can change things, I’ll get in­vol­ved.

Bro­ken Po­li­tics is al­so a ve­ry in­ti­mate al­bum on which your own an­xie­ties pro­vide an echo to the trou­bled state of the world. I was going through quite a dif­fi­cult patch when I star­ted wor­king on the al­bum. Up till then my whole life had been cen­tred on my fa­mi­ly and my chil­dren. And then they grew up and left home and I felt… di­so­rien­ta­ted. It’s a fee­ling that’s hard­ly new among wo­men over 50, but no­ne­the­less it’s dif­fi­cult just to move on to so­me­thing else at the drop of a hat. But even when eve­ry­thing col­lapses, you can turn to­wards others. That’s the mes­sage I wan­ted to share with Bro­ken Po­li­tics. The whole time I was wor­king on it I was confu­sed, just as the world is confu­sed, but I tried to ima­gine what other people might feel, such as a mi­grant, on the track Kong. What it means for them to feel hu­man. When the sub­ject of the song is a Sy­rian or an Afri­can who left their coun­try in the hope of fin­ding a bet­ter life, I can on­ly ex­press their fee­lings by loo­king in­to my own ex­pe­riences. I take the context of the world so as to rein­ter­pret it through the fil­ter of my emo­tions. As a Bri­tish re­sident, you’re not going to be spa­red a ques­tion about Brexit... I’m so sa­tu­ra­ted with the whole thing that I can’t lis­ten to a single de­bate any­more. We’re being had. It all star ted with Da­vid Ca­me­ron and Bo­ris John­son for pu­re­ly po­li­ti­cal rea­sons. And to­day none of the lea­ding Brexi teers has an ans­wer. Peoples are di­vi­ding, coun­tries are di­vi­ding. Of course it’s a reac­tion to eve­ry­thing that’s been going on for years, the mi­grant cri­sis, etc. People need an es­cape route, so they turn to a form of fas­cism that’s be­come co­ol again. I’m to­tal­ly hor­ri­fied. Back where I grew up, in Swe­den, there have just been elect ions. The Swe­den De­mo­crats, who are ba­si­cal­ly a bunch of fas­cists and ra­cists, have ne­ver had so much po­wer. Your new tracks have so­me­thing of the pro­test song about them. And in t ruth you star ted your c a ree r wi th ver y p o l i t i c a l ly en­ga­ged songs, long be­fore 7

Se­conds or Wo­man. This al­bum re­flects my his­to­ry. I have ab­so­lu­te­ly no pro­blem loo­king back, and in my concerts I don’t he­si­tate to play my old songs. Quite the contra­ry – it feels great to be trans­por­ting your whole his­to­ry with you. There are ma­ny si­mi­la­ri­ties and connec­tions bet­ween this al­bum and my se­cond one, Ho­me­brew, per­haps even more than with my first disc, Raw Like Su­shi.

Lis­te­ning to Bro­ken Po­li­tics is a ve­ry in­ti­mate ex­pe­rience. How do you es­ta­blish this proxi­mi­ty with your au­dience? I’ve been wor­king for ma­ny years now with my hus­band, Ca­me­ron McVey. No one knows me bet­ter than him. And it’s no doubt our proxi­mi­ty that of­fers the best condi­tions for this in­ti­ma­cy to come out. So­me­times I write alone, so­me­times with him. I write one verse, he writes the next... To get to what I want to say, I need to be alone and to feel free to play with the words. I go in­to an ex­treme flux of conscious­ness, and that’s when I sing the most in­ter­es­ting things. Things that I ne­ver ma­nage to sing again af­ter­wards, or at any rate ne­ver quite like that. In fact Ca­me­ron and I have ta­ken to re­cor­ding me with an iP­hone when that hap­pens. On the track Fas­ter Than the Truth, for example, we kept the take that was done with the iP­hone, be­cause I ne­ver ma­na­ged to do it again in the stu­dio! How does it work with your pro­du­cer, Four Tet, al ias Kie­ran Heb­den? We sent him all the de­mos by e-mail. Kie­ran was at a wed­ding in Los An­geles and I think he lis­te­ned to it all in the plane on the way back to En­gland. It’s fun­ny to see how Kie­ran ea­si­ly sees through me. When I’m wor­king I’m so concen­tra­ted that I com­ple­te­ly lose my­self. But Kie­ran is ca­pable of im­me­dia­te­ly trans­for­ming all of that in­to a clear sto­ry. I wan­ted the al­bum to be more pea­ce­ful and me­di­ta­tive than the pre­vious one, and he got it straight away. The sound is more or­ga­nic and it makes di­rect re­fe­rence to my back­ground and my step­fa­ther [the jazz mu­si­cian Don Cher­ry]. At the same time Kie­ran was wor­king on his own al­bum, where he de­ve­lo­ped the idea of lea­ving more and more room for si­lence. This spi­rit of si­lence al­so haunts Bro­ken Po­li­tics. Ne­neh Cher­ry, Bro­ken Po­li­tics ( Small­town Su­per­sound/ Awal Re­cor­dings), out now.

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