Nelly Furtado – Queen of Eclecticism

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Nelly Kim Furtado – Early years and influences

Furtado, a first-generation Canadian, was born as one of three children to working class AzoreanPortuguese parents in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. She was named after Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim.

Furtado first sang at the age of four when she performed a duet with her mother at church on Portugal Day. She began playing instruments at the age of nine, learning the trombone and ukulele and in later years, the guitar and keyboard. She began writing songs at the age of twelve and as a teenager, she played in a Portuguese marching band.

Furtado’s parents emigrated from Portugal to Canada in the late 1970s. She has stated that visiting her parents’ birthplace, the Azores, as a child and experiencing its culture and learning the Portuguese language has made her an open-minded person. This has strongly influenced her artistry as she has incorporated many cultural sounds into her music; it is also evident in her multilingualism as she can speak English, Portuguese, and to a lesser extent Spanish and Hindi. She has acknowledged her parents for instilling a hardcore work ethic; she spent eight summers working as a chambermaid with her mother, who was a housekeeper. She has stated that coming from this working-class background has also shaped her identity in a postive way.

During these years, Furtado embraced many musical genres, heavily listening to mainstream R&B/hip hop, alternative rock, Brazilian music (especially bossa nova), alternative hip hop, and variety of others. Her influences have included Jeff Buckley, Caetano Veloso, Amalia Rodrigues, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Cornershop, Mariah Carey, TLC, Mary J. Blige, Digable Planets, De La Soul, Radiohead, Oasis, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Verve, U2, and Beck.

The first musicians Furtado interacted with were underground rappers and DJs. During a visit to Toronto after the summer of eleventh grade, she met Tallis Newkirk, member of hip hop group Plains of Fascination and contributed vocals to their 1996 album Join the Ranks on the track "Waitin’ 4 the Streets". She spent the rest of that summer in Portugal, opening her mind to native rock acts. She then returned to British Columbia to finish high school and later moved to Toronto where she eventually formed the trip hop duo Nelstar in 1997 with Newkirk. The experience led Furtado back to her hip hop influences and allowed her to become more comfortable with writing her own melodies and rhymes. Although, "Like", one of the songs Nelstar recorded, received a VideoFACT grant to cover for the production of a music video, Furtado felt the trip-hop style of the duo was "too segregated" and believed it did not represent her personality or allow her to showcase her vocal ability. She left the group and decided to move back home.

Before leaving, she performed at the 1997 Honey Jam, a female, mostly-black talent show at Toronto nightclub Lee’s Palace. She performed to a Digital Audio Tape in jeans and a t-shirt. At the club, The Philosopher Kings singer Gerald Eaton (aka Jarvis Church), was impressed with her performance and approached her to write with him. Eaton and fellow Kings member Brian West helped Furtado produce a demo, but Furtado already had plans to backpack through Europe and return home to take creative writing courses at Camosun College. She stayed in touch with Eaton and West who insisted that she return to Toronto to record more material. She eventually returned for two weeks; the material recorded during those sessions led to Furtado’s record deal with DreamWorks Records in 1999.

Solo Career

Furtado continued to collaborate with Eaton and West, who co-produced Furtado’s debut album, Whoa, Nelly!, which was released in October 2000. The album saw major success all over the globe supported by its three singles, "I’m Like a Bird", "Turn off the Light", and "…On The Radio (Remember The Days)". The album received four Grammy nominations in 2002; Furtado’s debut single won for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Furthermore, Furtado was critically acclaimed for her innovative mixture of various genres and sounds. Slant magazine called the album "a delightful and refreshing antidote to the army of ‘pop princesses’ and rap-metal bands that had taken over popular music at the turn of the millennium". The sound of the album was strongly influenced by musicians who had traversed cultures and "the challenge of making heartfelt, emotional music that’s upbeat and hopeful". Following the release of the album, Furtado headlined the Burn in the Spotlight tour and also appeared on Moby‘s Area:One tour.

Before releasing her sophomore album, Furtado gave birth to her first child, daughter Nevis, on September 20, 2003. The father is her then-boyfriend Jasper Gahunia aka Lil’ Jaz, Furtado’s live DJ. Furtado’s second album, Folklore, was released in November 2003. The title was influenced by her parents immigration to Canada, "when I look at my old photo albums, I see pictures of their brand-new house, their shiny new car, their first experiences going to very North American-type places like Kmart. When you have that in your blood, you never really part with it-it becomes your own personal folklore." The album, similarly to her debut album, also displayed a diverse sound but with a more rock-oriented, acoustic approach. As Furtado focused more on the songwriting rather "than on frenetically switching genres five times in one song", BBC felt that it had "twice the originality" of her debut. Furtado acknowledged the mellowness of the album to her pregancy during most of its recording. The final track on the album, "Childhood Dreams", is dedicated to her daughter.

The album includes the single "Força" (means "strength" or "carry on" in Portuguese), which was written as the official anthem of the 2004 European Football Championship. Furtado performed the song at the championship’s final in Lisbon, Portugal in July 2004. Other singles included the ballad "Try" and "Powerless (Say What You Want)", in which Furtado embraces her Portuguese heritage; the song deals with "the idea that you can still feel like a minority inside, even if you don’t look like one on the outside".

The album was not as successful as her debut, partly due to troubles at DreamWorks Records and possibly the less poppy sound. It lacked promotion as DreamWorks was sold to Universal Music Group at the time of Folkore’ s release. In 2005, DreamWorks Records was shut down, and many of its artists including Furtado were absorbed into Geffen Records.

Furtado’s third album, Loose, will be released in June 2006. It is named after the spontaneous, creative decisions Furtado faced while creating the album. Three lead singles were released in different parts of the world: the Spanish reggaeton-influenced "No Hay Igual", the hip hop "Promiscuous" (featuring Timbaland), and the couture pop "Maneater". The album, mostly produced by Timbaland, showed Furtado heading in a more R&B–hip hop direction. She has categorized the album’s sound as punk-hop, "this modern, poppy, spooky music".

Furtado will make her acting debut in the independent drama Nobody’s Hero, to be released in 2006. Furtado plays an American Muslim who is the love interest of a young soldier who has returned from the Iraq War.







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