Neneh Cherry has landed in Australia in the middle of a heatwave – and she’s loving every minute of it.
In exactly the move one would expect from the London-based hip-hop and RnB powerhouse, she’s soaking up the sunshine in a somewhat more intellectual fashion than your typical holiday-maker.
The performer is best known to the layman for her ‘90s perennial hit Buffalo Stance (“no moneyman/can win my love/it’s sweetness that I’m thinking of”). But it’s her latest album, the thoughtful, slow-burn Broken Politics, that she’ll be drawing on for her Mona Foma show on Saturday, January 19.
And in the mean time, she’s taking advantage of the Australian weather.
“When I finish talking to you I’m going to go lie by the pool all afternoon,” she said, over the phone from her Sydney hotel.
“I’m about to pick up a James Baldwin book. It’s one I haven’t read before. I have obviously read a lot of his books, but I’m going to start If Beale Street Could Talk.”
She’s very much looking forward to digging in to the lesser-known Baldwin novel, penned in 1974.
It’s typical of Cherry (Neneh Mariann Karlsson on her birth certificate). She’s the kind of person who never stops learning – or “absorbing,” as she puts it.
Broken Politics, in particular, is a reflection of the ideas and emotions of the time we’re living.
At the time of writing it, she was listening to a lot of Nina Simone and Sun-Ra – “retro” masters who were writing at a similarly fractured time in political history.
She also volunteered at the Calais Jungle refugee camp in France, peeling carrots to feed the mass of humanity fleeing destruction in the Middle East.
“The climate that we’re living in, the political climate and the energy that’s going on around us, is really all-encompassing, and it’s pretty hard to not be affected by it,” she said.
“The fallout from life, and the colour of our society, has definitely been a huge thread in the album.
“When I went and sat down with Kieran [Hebden, stage name Four Tet, who produced the album], we were wanting to also respond to a lot of the feelings that we’d been carrying around.
“We wanted to make something quite beautiful and peaceful. We needed to search for beauty.”
And her inspiration can come from all sorts of places.
“I’m always reading,” she said.
“Reading books becomes quite an important way of finding inspiration for lyrics. I’m quite often taking notes and being inspired when I’m reading things, for a different way to play with words.
“At the minute I’m travelling a lot, and I’m not really in that mode – there’s not much space for doing much stuff besides getting on and off planes.
“But I’m constantly absorbing. A lot of the stuff that comes out is a reflection of stuff that I’ve been absorbing almost subliminally.”
- Neneh Cherry is playing the Northern Stage, Inveresk, at 9pm on Saturday, January 19. Festival passes through mofo.net.au.