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 Politics, 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 reflect 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.
“I take the context of the world so as to reinterpret it through the filter of my emotions.”