Live In-Studio: Neneh Cherry’s Soul Punk Project

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Neneh Cherry
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Neneh Cherry has floated between underground acclaim and pop stardom. She has the life of a musical Zelig: raised by jazz great Don Cherry among cultural luminaries like Allen Ginsberg and Miles Davis, she left home early to join a first-generation punk band in London, the Slits. She made her mark in the funkier, multiracial postpunk scene. In 1988, her “Buffalo Stance” was the first pop song to incorporate rap, and scored her a huge hit worldwide.

Cherry went on to help shape trip-hop, the dance music popular in the UK. But she has not been quick to capitalize on success, and has gone more than a decade without making a record. “I’m not ambitious in the way where I’m driven by my career. I think a lot of people said, ‘She could have been really successful and sold a lot of records after “Buffalo Stance,”’ a lot of people were expecting that,” she tells Kurt Andersen. “But I couldn’t do it, I wasn’t able to go down that road.” 

When Cherry does put out an album, it matters. Blank Project, released this month, seems to combine all the strands of her work into something wholly distinctive: minimalist club punk funk — a soul record that will rip your eardrums a new one.

She performed two of the songs for Studio 360, accompanied by Alexis Georgopoulos (bass) and TJ Maiani (drums) of the band Arp.

Starkly produced by electronic musician Four Tet, Blank Project is powered by Cherry’s voice, accompanied by keyboards, drums, and little else. It’s a fresh, contemporary sound, but Cherry is not trying to play young. Her lyrics speak clearly to the issues of a singer turning 50: the tensions in a long marriage, the loss of a parent, desire for a more comfortable life, and anxieties about the state of the world.

She has no regrets about the pace of her career, or the time she took off to focus on her daughters. “I’ve always felt like I’m going to get there, and it’s more important to get there than to not do it," she says. "It’s about waking up and going to bed and eventually dying, and feeling like I tried to do the things I was here to do as best I can.”

Music Playlist

  1. Everything

    Artist: Neneh Cherry
    Album: Blank Project
    Label: Smalltown Supersound
  2. Blank Project

    Artist: Neneh Cherry
  3. Weightless

    Artist: Neneh Cherry