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Music

The Story Behind The Song: Neneh Cherry’s ‘Buffalo Stance’ and its fearsome brilliance

@TomTaylorFO

What is the ‘Buffalo Stance’? Well, as soon as the ascending Roland synth notes kick in after the first chorus, you get your answer: Who cares? Neneh Cherry’s genre-bending hit remains a party classic to this day—always happily labelled proto and always seeming to herald something new even now. But that wasn’t always the case. 

Neneh Cherry originally recorded the iconic anthem almost three years earlier as the B-side to the Morgan McVey tune ‘Looking Good Diving’. At the time she was dating one half the duo, Cameron McVey. The pair would later marry and the song itself would also mature. Over the years it was layered with pioneering cut-and-paste sampling and a Johnny Marr-style guitar sound entered the funky mix to form a sonic riot with a sharper cutting edge than laser cut Japanese steel. With a final remix by Bomb The Bass’s Tim Simeon finally polishing the piece, the track was ready to be a massive hit. 

However, the core heart of the anthem remained. The term ‘Buffalo Stance’ was, in part, inspired by London’s Buffalo Collective, a subversive group of creatives led by the numen Ray Petri. Following a somewhat nomadic childhood in Sweden and America, Cherry found herself enamoured with the punk ethos of certain London cliques and the scene inspired her to focus her talents and get a little trailblazing with them too. In some ways, the ‘Buffalo Stance’ is her love letter to this movement and the three years that went into was her labour of love.

Part of this ethos came out in the bold way that the song looked at womanhood. With a so-called ‘anti-pimp’ message at its heart, Cherry proclaimed “it’s about sexual survival. It’s not. A feminist record – none of my songs are. But it’s about female strength, female power, female attitude.” And that much is palpable in the boldly unwavering song. 

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What’s more, that attitude carried into the performance of the song itself in a very meta way. When Cherry performed the song on Top of the Pops during an iconic era for the show where it could make or break a record, she was heavily pregnant. “When I found out I was pregnant,” Cherry recalled in an Observer interview, “my mother said, ‘Don’t separate your life, the life that you’re going to make with this child, from the things that you are and what you want to do. Getting on Top of the Pops and having that feeling with me was such a saving grace.”

This boldly feminine track was ahead of its day and remains as fresh as a frozen margarita. Tackling male-dominated views of sexuality in music and usurping the notion of motherhood remaining separate from creativity, the track was as trailblazing sonically as it was when it comes to the definitive lyrical hooks that Cherry unflinchingly unfurls with casual attitude and joyous sass. And all topped off with a cracking bomber jacket to boot.