#SYDFEST Review: Neneh Cherry

From torch anthems to trip hop, house, jazz, rap and riot girl punk, Neneh Cherry’s career has spanned 35 years of hits both critical and commercial. Earlier this week, the rebel icon of feminist pop brought her new Four Tet produced album "Broken Politics" and stacked back catalogue to Sydney's Carriageworks. All photos captured by Victor Frankowski for Sydney Festival.

Swedish songwriter and pioneering hip hop voice Neneh Cherry is currently in town for Sydney Festival and played to a sold-out crowd at Sydney’s Carriageworks on Tuesday night.

From seminal jams like ‘Buffalo Stance’ to the evergreen Youssou N’Dour duet ‘7 Seconds,’ Cherry’s musical influence is immense.

Tuesday evening, the 54-year-old Swedish singer and occasional rapper conjured up a quick bond with the Sydney audience by simply being herself – warm, laidback and charming, graciously thanking us for “bringing our bodies into the living room”.

Cherry returned to the Sydney stage (only the second time she’s been in the country since 2015) performing songs mainly from her latest record, “Broken Politics,” an album charged by the challenges and frustrations of today’s political climate, including ‘Fallen Leaves,’ ‘Deep Vein Thrombosis,’ ‘Sychronised Devotion,’ and ‘Soldier’.

Being considered a millennial (but feeling more like Generation X), it was refreshing for this particular writer to be part of a crowd that was solely there to enjoy Cherry‘s singing/rapping and not have every minute captured on our smartphones.

On the downside of being part of a mainly middle-aged crowd, however, was the fact that everybody stayed seated. Midway through her set, Cherry picked up the mood with songs like ‘Natural Skin Deep’, and ‘Kong’, but prior to performing the latter, she shared a few words:

“It’s kinda hard out there, you know what I mean? The world… We’re in a difficult place, so more than ever it feels, and just sharing space and being close for a few minutes, feels like a pretty good solution to gain strength, you know, to go out and continue our fight as good warriors.” [sic]

Six rotating and outstanding musicians used an assortment of percussion, marimba, harp, bass guitar, keyboard and a couple of laptops behind Neneh Cherry which added a welcome extra muscle to the tracks from last year’s “Broken Politics LP” and the rest of her set list.

Cherry is also righteously angry about the current state of the world, a committed activist unafraid to mix the startlingly intimate and overtly political in her music. ‘Black Monday’ was inspired by a demonstration that took place in Poland (who have “really shit abortion laws, where basically you have no choice”) where men and women wore black on a Monday “demonstrating for [abortion] rights, for human rights.”

“It’s crazy that we’re still fighting over such basic things as the right of our own bodies, but we can’t give up until we’re done.”

Towards the end and well into the encore, Neneh Cherry finally urged the crowd to get up on their feet (even requesting they get closer to her) as she belted out a trio of crowd-pleasing throwbacks in the form of a trip-hop style cover of Cole Porter’s ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin,’ ‘Manchild’ from her 1989 debut album “Raw Like Sushi” and a revamped version of ‘Buffalo Stance,’ the hit song that put Cherry on the musical map 31 years ago.

Oh, and although a heckler from the crowd requested (a denied) ‘7 Seconds,’ I thought it would be funny to point out that the entire ladies’ bathroom after the show proceeded to all sing-along to the aforementioned song whilst they were waiting in line. Once a crowd favourite, always a crowd favourite, I suppose.

Neneh Cherry
14 January 2019

All photos captured by Victor Frankowski for Sydney Festival.