Neneh Cherry gave birth twice this year. In March she was delivered of daughter Tyson. Two months later Cherry released her first solo album, Raw Like Sushi, whose hot single, “Buffalo Stance,” has critics proclaiming her funkdom’s great female hope. So perhaps it was no surprise last month when, after presenting a statuette at the MTV Awards in L.A., Cherry returned to her dressing room and did what any mother of two who is simultaneously trying to cope with the demands of sudden stardom would do: She fainted.
The initial diagnosis was exhaustion, but doctors now believe the culprit may be that modern bucolic plague, Lyme disease. Two months ago Cherry, 25, who usually lives in London with her boyfriend and manager, Cameron McVey, 32, moved to an upstate New York farm to relax and plan a U.S. tour that was to start in September. “This house,” she said then, “is a lifesaver.” Alas, it may have been a health taker. Although Lyme disease, which is transmitted by deer ticks, is difficult to diagnose with certainty, Cherry has shown almost all the symptoms: tiredness, aching joints, rashes and a telltale insect bite. Even with antibiotic treatment, the fatigue can linger for months, so Cherry has postponed her tour until at least early next year.
Cherry’s setback is yet another odd twist in a precociously eventful life. Her mother, Moki, a Swedish artist, and her father, Ahmadu Jah, a West African drummer, split shortly after Neneh was born; her mother later married avant-garde trumpeter Don Cherry. Neneh, who grew up in New York, recalls dancing in clubs until dawn when she was 13, with her mother’s tacit blessing. At 14, she quit school and began experimenting with music. At 17, while singing with a British punk band, Rip Rig and Panic, she married drummer Bruce Smith and had a daughter, Naiema, now 6. She took up with McVey, Tyson’s father, after splitting from Smith in 1984. “Our love is strong—never die, hopefully,” says Cherry.
Of necessity, she is taking her illness lying down. But she is philosophical. “We’ve all been going kinda strong these last few months,” says Cherry. “Sometimes real stupid things have to happen to make you stop.”
—Steve Dougherty, Benilde Little in New York