Swedish singer, rapper and songwriter Neneh Cherry has been in the American consciousness since 1988’s “Buffalo Stance.” She’s lived on and off in New York since 1966. And yet, when she takes the stage at the Highline Ballroom on Friday night, it will be her first-ever solo gig in New York City.
“It’s absurd,” she admits, with a laugh. “But yes, now it’s going to happen.”
Cherry’s New York debut comes on the heels of her first solo album in 18 years, 2014’s “Blank Project.”
The full-length pairs her with U.K. producer and electronic mastermind Four Tet for a record of deeply personal, stripped-down tracks that are both modern and timeless — as if she had never left.
amNewYork caught up with Cherry in advance of her show at the Highline Ballroom.
It’s been 18 years since “Man,” your 1996 full-length. Why a new album, and why now?
I had this record with me for quite a while, and it was always a record I wanted to make, but I supposed a lot of quite heavy stuff has happened. My mother died five years ago, which totally took me out for a year. And after that year, I felt like I had to work. Like if I didn’t work, I was going to go crazy. … There’s a part of healing in everyone that only you can do yourself. To me, it’s music. The record helped me make it through.
It’s not like you went off and lived in a cave during the hiatus — you appeared on songs with artists like Youssou N’Dour, Gorillaz and Peter Gabriel. What did you take from more than 15 years of these collaborations?
You really always learn from the people that you work with. And you’re also learning that what you have has validity. The more you collaborate … you have to be both humble and able to put your ideas forward. Collaborating taught me to be freer, in a way. I’ve learned how to take more risks, to be more open.
With your history in New York City, this is akin to a first-ever “hometown show” for you. How do you anticipate feeling before stepping on stage?
I’m trying to just feel really at home about it. I’m maybe a little bit wary about too much focus on it, because of course I feel like I have a responsibility … and you have to be careful because that can feel like a pressure. We’re all going to share time and space together, and I’m just going to enjoy it. I feel very excited about it.