Listen to this song by international citizen and crossover R&B/Hip Hop/dance-pop maven Neneh Cherry. It’s “Buffalo Stance”, her biggest hit and featured on her landmark 1989 album Raw Like Sushi. The song was a smash success all over the world, scoring big numbers on the pop and R&B charts in the US, the UK, and even here in the Great White North.
The song itself is an almalgam of musical styles, and isn’t really affliliated with any one of them. There are some pretty broad strands of musical traditions that can be plucked out of this song. Soul, electro, and hip hop are certainly among them, with those strains of music growing more and more in stature as it was imported from the United States to scenes in the UK where it was also developing domestically by the end of the eighties. I think a lot of post punk textures can be found pretty prominently in here as well, with lots of light and dark textures weaving in and out of each other. Along with all of these ingredients, “Buffalo Stance” proved to be pretty adaptable to all kinds of musical channels, popular as a video, a single on the radio, and certainly in the clubs.
But, what is this song actually about, and what is its real relationship with its singer? It is certainly rooted in ideas about finding common ground, and finding likeminded people with whom to surround oneself. But, it also has an aspect to it that is often missing in pop music that is made to dance to; a political edge.
In part, this song is a reflection of the crowd that Cherry hung with at the time, which was the Buffalo Posse, a loosely-affiliated group of artists and those on the fashion scene in London, where she had come to live after a life of moving from one continent to another. By this time, she’d lived in Stockholm and New York, settling in London in her early teens and connecting with the punk scene, specifically with The Slits, who had invited her stepfather, jazz musician Don Cherry, to open some shows for them. Having been surrounded by artists since she was a child, it’s no wonder she was quick to find her tribe. And that’s what this song is about in large part. The “stance” in question is about those with whom one stands, and on an individual level, those values for which one stands as well.
From the get-go, Neneh Cherry presented herself as a formidable woman. This is what comes out of this song the most. Its a pop song. But, it’s also about the identity of the artist; what’s important to her, who she loves, what she wants. No money-man can win her love. It’s sweetness that she’s thinking of. This works very well as a pop song lyric of course. But, it’s also a statement from a woman about what a man should be in relation to her. It undercuts the standard myth of a woman looking to find security in the accomplishments of another. A big part of the stance, apart from being in a community with other likeminded people, is about standing on one’s own, and on one’s own terms.
Cherry performed this song on Britain’s Top Of The Pops show while seven months pregnant with her daughter Tyson, which gave this song even more dimension, and certainly veered the course of the pop singer away from the standard image of the girlish and untested ingenue. This was a woman we were dealing with and a soon-to-be mother and in an industry that still treated women pop artists as little more than sexually available kewpie dolls. And, she still managed to rock the house with this song.
Since this tune hit the charts, pop starlets have come and gone, and there remains to be a long way to go as far as women in the pop industry is concerned, with labels and producers still owning the means to success for them, even when controversy hangs over the proceedings. This song showed that there was an alternate vision for who gets to be a pop star, and how much control that person has over their own destiny, especially when the artist in question is a woman.
Neneh Cherry is a singer, rapper, DJ, and broadcaster today. Catch up to her at nenehcherry.com.