by Christine Ochefu
It’s been 30 years since the release of Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance.” At 8 years old I sat crossed legged in front of the TV set when its video popped up on the screen as part of an 80’s throwback mix. My mum instantly recognized the opening scratches, launching into a retrospective tale about the song’s success and singing the chorus without missing a beat. Doorknockers glinting and head cocking with each move, Neneh glided through her storytelling verses over the sounds of cowbells, offbeat saxophone and near-comical cockney adlibs. Cherry, in all her mean-mugging, curled-lip glory, was eyeing me fiercely on my TV screen, spelling out a punchy refrain of “don’t you get fresh with me” in front of two crazy-eyed, gyrating ladies. I didn’t understand it, but I was hooked.
Moving between Sweden, London and New York, Cherry’s history partially explains the uniqueness of her music style and individual appeal. The half-Sierra Leonean half-Swedish artist started her career at the age of 15, appearing in punk bands like The Slits and experimenting with DJing before releasing the 1988 smash hit “Buffalo Stance.” The song was one of the major British tunes to capture both UK and US audiences that year, reaching No. 3 on both Top 100 charts after its release. Even more impressive was the competition with the other music released that year. Cherry’s release came alongside classic Hip-Hop debuts from artists like NWA, Slick Rick, and MC Lyte, but still managed to perform successfully with both international and UK audiences. For a 24-year-old artist with counter-cultural and punk roots, this was far more than a small feat.
Despite only briefly grasping the content of the track, her delivery and confidence impacted a young Black woman like myself. Cherry made for a complete exercise in genre-bending, with her cadence seeming to be directly influenced by her punk roots. Propelled by a catchy yet assertive refrain “No money man can win my love,” the song is both textbook braggadocio and a quirky dressing down of the “gigolo on the street” soliciting her to stock up his funds. Jumping from pop elements to dance production to a bridge resembling spoken word, Cherry’s boldness in the video and captivating delivery had grabbed me - I knew I wanted to be that woman on the screen.
My mother, too, found Cherry’s presence important. She told me “There was just something about seeing a Black woman making music like that and being so well received and acknowledged.” As is the situation with its American counterpart, Black women have historically struggled to be acknowledged and gain visibility in the UK Hip-Hop and rap industry, something we’re still grappling with now. With Black women afro-trap, grime artists, DJ’s and music industry professionals working hard to assert the right to spaces contemporarily, she echoes my sentiments in garnering support for Black women in the scene. “It’s the kind of thing I’d like to see more of now, people really getting behind Black female artists.”
Since “Buffalo Stance” Neneh has created by five eclectic solo albums and endless collaborative projects, giving us further classics like 7 Seconds, Manchild and a recent work entitled Broken Politics, that deals with critical subject matter like the refugee crisis. Nevertheless, it’s important to return to the title track which first beckoned wider ears to her talent and acknowledge her for her classic place in Black British music history. As a Black woman artist being celebrated for her musical output, she’s worked to cement a place for Black women artists globally with the positive reception to her music on an international scale. I can never forget its significance to little Black girls like me who’d mimic her body movements, classic lip curl and fierce gaze to the audience of our bathroom mirrors, as a kind of ritual to channel Cherry’s confidence through our own imitations. On her 55th birthday, after over 30 years in the music industry, there has never been a better time to celebrate the timelessness of “Buffalo Stance” and importance in her fan’s hearts. And I will never forget its importance in mine.