THE LEGACY OF NENEH CHERRY AND THE NEXT GENERATION OF COOL (UNPUBLISHED, 2014)

“Everything is everything / Good things come to those who wait (they say)”

I feel like I’ve been released. I feel like I’ve arrived, all of the things I’vebeen doing up until now has led me to this point.

Neneh Cherry is one of the 80s and 90s most innovative and instantly likeable pop pioneers in the boom days of the record industry, most well-known for her debut album Raw Like Sushi (1989) and its breakout single Buffalo Stance. In the 18 years since her last major label release,1996’s Man, the singer-songwriter has continued to live in her Swedish hometown. Primarily based between Stockholm, London and New York, she has come to represent for many, much younger underground kids, an early example of a sizzling international dimension to popular music’s varied subgenres. Buffalo Stance peaked at #3 on the US and UK singles charts in 1988, when hip-hop was really just starting to make huge commercial waves.

In her absence, while staying far, far away from major labels, a number of successful artists from around the globe have since shown audiences both the possibilities and scope of this left field, feminine and tough pop fusion style. London via Sri Lanka’s M.I.A., Swedish band Little Dragon and singer Robyn, Harlem-born Kelis amongst many others, all emerged comparatively recently to the radically different cultures and record industry consumer habits in the 1980s. Cherry’s legacy and influence is indisputable,her 2012 album with free jazz band The Thing on Oslo-based independent label Smalltown Supersound inspired a stunning remix from one of electronic music’s most cutting edge producers, Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet, who produced and recorded her latest release, this year’s Blank Project.

Alongside her equally warm and candid daughter,Tyson McVey, (25), one half of ambient, experimental R&B duo PANES, they are the next generation of music and together, they are living embodiments of Buffalo, a strictly DIY culture rooted in the powerful bond between mother and daughter, and finding the space and energy to always embrace the new.

Tyson tells me she hasn’t seen her parents for a few weeks after they greet warmly on set at fashion photographer Mark Lebon’s studio. The music adds to the tranquil, ‘indoor’ safe feeling of being protected from another predictably wet London day. A comfortably warm soundtrack of soul greats D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye etc. becomes the musical backbone of a casual but busy day shooting and of course,catching up with family and friends. Cherry and Lebon speak fondly of their early 80s club adventures in Leicester Square, casually adding, “way before you were born”. Buffalo Stance pays direct homage to these hedonistic times and a reference to Cherry’s closest friends, brought together by the legendary stylist and tastemaker Ray Petri, fashion photographer Mark Lebon and husband / producer Cameron McVey. Eventually,mother and daughter are seated together, side by side, dressed sharply in dark suits, it feels like a modernized, subtle 40s gangster adaptation of Frida Kahlo’s The Two Fridas. Their obvious bond, the similarities in their mannerisms are striking and in one of the only silent moments of an otherwise busy day, a momentary hush falls on set a smother and daughter share the weight of a powerful moment together.

Later that week, a similarly grey afternoon, this time spent in Cherry’s kitchen, each nursing cups of tea, she casually mentions having spent the previous night battling a nasty touch of food poisoning. Otherwise relaxed and unfazed, I ask her what it means to be both a mother and an artist;she pauses and smiles knowingly, wistfully. It is the memory and lasting impact of her mother, Moki Cherry,that triggers our exploration of legacy, family and its influence on our daily lives.

NC:The source of creativity has always been rooted in family. My mother had me when she was 21 and studying Textile Design in Stockholm. She decided to be amother but also a creative person, I was a big part of the drive. When I got pregnant with Naima when I was 18, my mother said to me, “we’re all part of the same thing, don’t separate yourself”. I’ve continued with that in a way…

I look at my daughters and feel incredibly proud of who they are, the concept of family and the meaning of that has always been where it starts.Your generation and my generation is about changing the concept of family. I have my kids, my husband, my brothers and sisters, my mother’s past, my stepfather (jazz legend Don Cherry) is gone. There’s a kind of inner sanctum of family. I also have an incredible body of friends and extended family that is also totally significant.

Cherry’s latest release, the aptly titled Blank Project, is a collaboration primarily between the singer, husband and songwriting partner Cameron McVey, labelmates RocketnumberNine and Four Tet. The album is chock full of philosophical ideas while managing to retain a cool, sparse and freeflowing mixtureof jazz and punk with a rough poetic, spoken word edge.

NC: we started with a blank page and ended with a blank page. It was a lifeline.From making this record I’ve got wings or something, I feel like it has opened me up. It’s put me in a place where I haven’t been before.

KR: how has London influenced your life and work? How does it still? How does the concept of influence work for you?

NC: Over theyears, just by being a human being in the world, you’re constantly observing things, recording little milliseconds of stuff.

We’re all unique but the influence of the people around you is important because one thing leads to another. London was the unique melting pot, I met people who had their own opinions and made their own way forward, together. We all need to be present, in the now and meeting new people is also an integral part of going to the next place.

NC:Cam and I have been making records since I started solo records. We have a kind of companionship that is really special and has an intensity that makes a magic. But we have a pool of people that changes that, young blood – we have what we have, our heritage, but you have to meet the new.

So meet the new generation of cool, Tyson McVey, together with producer Shaun they are PANES, who have been working together for 18 months before their first release. An academic studying in London for her masters, becoming a part of PANES has been an organic process, from writing and singing casually throughout her life, she’s now ready to step out and explore the possibilities of their own unique perspective on Soul music. Sharing the same independent record label as her mother (Smalltown Supersound) and London sister label Brown Rice Records allow them to grow at their own pace, on their own time. It is with their music; dark, flowing and instantly likeable. Throughout our easy conversation, we draw many similarities between her mother’s philosophy and her own; the influence of her grandmother is strongly felt and communicated. She is a direct result of strong and thriving female relationships in her family, her mother, grandmother and sister’s influence is strong, the weight of their loving relationships is palpable. There is something special about the bond between a lioness and her cub.

TM:There’s something really powerful in growing up together and experiencing life together. There’s something amazing in creating together, learning together.In our family in particular, there are alot of women. It’s a big family and we’re all quite chaotic, there’s a lot of moving around, her parents, everything, it’s quite creative. For women who are so revolutionary but also very old-school, like my mum insisting that we learn how to cook for ourselves and our family and my grandmother ironing her pillowcases yet she was the first woman in Stockholm in the 60s to wear a mini-skirt, hanging out with jazz musicians…

TM:It’s a family tree, roots growing, people connecting. PANES is my little familynow.

KR: How has Buffalo influenced the way you work?

TM:You can see from when we did the shoot the other day, we all still know each other and loads of people from my generation still hang out in the same places.The ways people are doing things, that do it yourself, anything is possible nature of everything. I would like to keep it that way, friends making music videos,you meet someone at a party or know someone who does styling, why wouldn’t you work with them? That was how it was then and now. Having lived in Stockholm from age 15 – 20, after moving back here I realised the social life in London is so unique. They work together, they party together, make music together, all ages, and there are no limits. It was the same then and the same now.

KR: How do you feel about where things are moving musically?

TM:A lot of people including my parents were talking about the internet being this big scary monster, so many people were losing their jobs because of it. But at this point it’s just amazingly exciting. People are always gonna need music.

NC:I think it’s kind of amazing, it’s really cool. Just looking out into the world of music, there was something in the 80s and 90s, the boom days of the industry that it ate itself, there was too much money. People were so dependent on record companies picking up their CDs and giving it the thumbs up. Now, we can infiltrate off our own backs. It’s harder, it’s tougher, making a buck isn’t easy but there’s something more revolutionary that is back or at the forefront again. I’m really into where we are going. Seeing Tyson and PANES, I’m learning so much. I just let it thrill me and warm my heart, I have nothing to tell them. Of course they influence me and I hope I influence them, but it could be something we cook together, or a conversation, or a walk that we take that sparks something. Influence isn’t always direct, it’s quite complicated. It’s not all about what I get up to, it’s about a lot of weird fragments of things you might hear someone say on the tube or something…

BlankProject and PANES’ self-titled debut EP are out now onSmalltown Supersound and Brown Rice Records.

Written by Kareem Reid


Using Format