Story of the Song: 7 Seconds, Youssou N'Dour and Neneh Cherry, 1994

Robert Webb
Sunday 30 October 2011 23:50

During the Eighties Neneh Cherry charted a critically cool career, from the punk-jazz leftfield to her 1988 hit "Buffalo Stance". But it was her duet the following decade with Youssou N'Dour which elevated both artists to global stardom.

"I was very familiar with his music 'cause I heard it in my house when growing up," Cherry recalled. When her parents organised a festival in Sweden, N'Dour was invited over. "It was like a little barn happening," said Cherry. N'Dour recalled that the teenager helped prepare him dinner.

N'Dour's Western breakthrough in 1986, courtesy of Peter Gabriel's Real World stable, prompted Cherry to initiate a collaboration. Cherry suggested co-writing an anti-racist song. With partner, Cameron McVey, and producer Jonny Dollar, Cherry and N'Dour wrote "7 Seconds", the title referring to the first moments of a child's life, as Cherry put it, "not knowing about the problems and violence in our world".

The duet was recorded at New York's Power Play Studios. A huge international hit, shifting millions in France alone, it is one of the few British chart entries sung in three languages (Wolof, French and English). "They told us to translate it to English so that everybody can understand what it's about," claimed Cherry. "But not everybody speaks English." It appeared on both N'Dour's 1994 album 'The Guide: Wommat' and, two years later, on Cherry's 'Man'. N'Dour has since performed the song live with Gabriel and other singers, including Tracy Chapman, Dido (at the Live 8 concert) and Annie Lennox.

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