“7 Seconds” — Youssou N’Dour and Neneh Cherry

The world has changed a lot in 30 years. Not always for the better, but let’s be grateful for the things that have improved in the last 30 years ago.

Back in 1989, the British public…or probably, more accurately, our scandal-mongering tabloid press…were aghast that a woman who was evidently heavily pregnant would be performing her latest hit record on Top of the Pops.

Back in Victorian times, women used to enter what was called “confinement”… just feast your mind on all the truly horrible implications of that expression… when their baby started to “show”, as they quaintly termed it.

Being “with child” was considered immodest, so women…at least those in high society…withdrew from public life rather than display an obvious bump. Obviously working class women had no choice but to keep working or they’d have starved in the brutal pre-welfare state world of Victorian England.

But, judging by the reaction from the tabloid press as recently as 1989, apparently pregnant women weren’t expected to advertise their condition then either, especially not on the UK’s biggest primetime pop music programme.

If you’d like to see Neneh Cherry’s “scandalous” appearance on Top of the Pops, performing one of her big hits “Buffalo Stance” you can find that here… https://youtu.be/ToNvjTrNlL8 (For British readers, 30 years ago was also when Steve Wright was trendy, doing the intro…)

I’d like to think that wouldn’t happen today in 2019…30 years later…and it probably wouldn’t. But I bet there isn’t a female pop star in the land who isn’t aware of the story of Neneh Cherry’s Top of the Pops appearance and who doesn’t think twice about what to do when her bump starts to show. Even the fact that they have to think about the reaction they might get in the press means the battle hasn’t yet been won.

And another battle which hasn’t yet been won is the battle for people to see all of humanity as our equals, and to welcome other people into our lives based on how they behave as human beings, not their gender, the colour of their skin, or where they choose to worship.

Which is what “7 Seconds” is all about…

The idea behind the song is how a newborn infant feels in the first seven seconds of life. That’s the same for everyone. They don’t know if they’re born into a rich family or a poor one…a black family or a white one…whether they’re a boy or a girl…

When you’re seven seconds old, your mind can’t comprehend any of those concepts. All you have is the bliss of connecting with the woman who carried you around for the last nine months, and who will love you for the rest of your life.

For most of us, life goes steadily downhill after that, but those first seven seconds are the closest any of us will get to having a perfect life here on earth.

Youssou N’Dour is a Senegalese musician who came to prominence through Peter Gabriel’s world music initiative. I say “came to prominence”…of course I mean to a mainstream Western pop audience. He was already very well known in the West African music scene.

And Neneh Cherry was in a more experimental mood after the success of her song “Buffalo Stance” and her album “Raw Like Sushi”…which I still have on CD.

I always enjoyed Neneh Cherry’s work. There was a spiky edge to it, but also some great tunes and thoughtful lyrics. And you know I must have liked it because 30 years ago, if you were spending 15-quid or so on one of the pieces of plastic we used to get our music on before free streaming took hold, you must have liked the artist’s work. That was a fair chunk of a weekly wage back then.

Much as I liked “Raw Like Sushi”…I absolutely loved it when Neneh Cherry teamed up with Youssou N’Dour to record “7 Seconds”.

The song was written by Neneh Cherry, Youssou N’Dour, Cameron McVey (Neneh Cherry’s husband and the producer of “Raw Like Sushi”) and Jonathan Sharp (co-producer of “Raw Like Sushi” and probably best known for his work with Massive Attack).

“7 Seconds” is a very unusual song because it’s sung in three languages. English, French and Wolof (a West African language). Songs in English do well in the British charts, of course, and French is a rarer, but by no means unknown, language to find in the British charts.

But Wolof… “7 Seconds” was a first with that…

While my French is rusty…and my Wolof non-existent…even the English words in “7 Seconds” tell you all you need to know…

And when a child is born into this world
It has no concept
Of the tone of skin it’s living in
And there’s a million voices
And there’s a million voices
To tell you what she should be thinking
So you better sober up for just a second

There are a lot of people around to tell us what we should be thinking. Some preach love. Some preach hate. Some seek to include. Some seek to divide. Some seek personal advantage. Some seek to make the world a better place.

If you want to help make the world somewhere your children can live in peace, security and at least relative comfort, you know what you need to do.

Try to imagine what it would be like if nobody else was “telling you what you should be thinking”…

Imagine what you’d do if you had to make the same decision in that first seven seconds of life… before you learned that boys and girls were “supposed” to behave differently… before your eyes had even calibrated to the fact that people have skins of different shades and hues… before you were aware that, in unscrupulous hands, the world’s major religions, all of which preach love and compassion for our fellow human beings, can be used as the justification for hate.

If you can take all those things away and still make the same decision, that’s likely to be the best decision you can make for yourself, your family and for the rest of world.

Here’s the wonderfully atmospheric “7 Seconds” to put that more eloquently than I ever could. It’s Youssou N’Dour and Neneh Cherry, with their worldwide chart-topping song…and a fabulous video to boot…

If you’ve read this far, thank you for your time and attention. I know you could have spent your time doing something else, so I’m very grateful that you’ve spent it in the company of one of my favourite songs.

The video is below, but if you prefer to listen to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/76D5nfZbYzZYfUZKGy73jy

Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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