Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b 10 March 1964, Stockholm) Vocalist, initially combining hip-hop and proper singing with the usual funk-soul studio-produced backing. Daughter of Swedish artist Moki Cherry and African percussionist Ahmadu Jah, her stepfather was trumpeter Don Cherry; Cherry would play his flute to the birds in the woods outside Stockholm, and wander into town still playing, with the children following behind. Neneh was inflenced by Poly Styrene singing 'Germ Free Adolescents' with X- Ray Spex, played bass guitar (badly, she says) with NYC group Nails, hung out in Brooklyn and Battersea being a punk, recorded with UK band Rip, Rig and Panic '81 with Don backing, sang with the Slits, Matt Johnson ('The The') etc then had hits on the Circa label co-written with Cameron McVey (whom she married). She was the first eight-months-pregnant woman to appear on UK TV's Top Of The Pops '88. Her debut album Raw Like Sushi '89 on Virgin was a hit; the traditionally difficult second album Home Brew '91 didn't do as well.
A beautiful duet, '7 Seconds' with Youssou N'Dour on Chaos/Columbia, sold three million '94, she singing in English, he in French and Wolof. She sang with Cher and Chrissie Hynde on 'Love Can Build A Bridge' '95. When Don was dying he told her that everything around him was shining more brightly; she intended to put that into her third album Man '96, and there were some better songs including '7 Seconds', 'Woman' (a response to the chauvinism of James Brown's 'It's A Man's Man's Man's World') and the raunchy 'Kootchie'. She is a performer who depends on good material, such as the touching tribute to her late stepfather, 'Ganapati', which she sings on Kathak ('98) by Trilok Gurtu.
She allied with a collective, CirKus, that included her husband, and the Oslo label Smalltown Supersound. Then The Cherry Thing 2012 was an album of free-jazz avant-garde covers, taking in electropunk, hip-hop and much else, a collaboration with the Norwegian/Swedish jazz trio known for a punklish edge, fronted by saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, the trio named after a track from Don Cherry's 1966 album Where Is Brooklyn? Guests on the album include Christer Bothén, a family friend who introduced Don Cherry to the Malian 'hunter's guitar'; he plays on a cover of Cherry's 'Golden Heart', helping to bring things full circle.