Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Nelly Furtado

"It was summertime and I was in the Azores, hanging around the small village my parents are from. I was looking out on this very rural setting, on a road going up a hill. There was an old man coming down the hill with a pitchfork on his shoulder. He was wearing gum boots, work pants and a Coca-Cola T-shirt. I saw that and thought, That’s my album!"

Quaint tales and obscure sayings and antique vases safely encased under museum glass are all nice relics of tradition. But the living history and customs of different cultures and different times seem, for singer Nelly Furtado, as rocking as a Camaro stereo blaring monster beats.

The timeless and cutting-edge comprise essential components of the energetic m?lange that has made Furtado one of pop music’s premier artists. This mix emerges with an explosive new simplicity and breadth on Folklore (set for release Nov. 25, 2003, on DreamWorks Records). The album is Furtado’s follow-up to her multiplatinum debut, Whoa, Nelly! It just shows how variously and hard the stuff on Folklore, as Nelly Furtado imagines it, can kick.

"This is the folklore of my mind," Furtado says. "The word often conjures up something old, but I’m kind of flipping its usual understanding. Folklore is something magical and mystical. I like that. But more than that, I think of it as a belief in origin. It’s people’s stories basically. Everybody everywhere has his or her own folklore. It can be light; it can be dark. And it doesn’t always have to come from the past. The historical part is not the point. Gossip about a celebrity? That’s modern folklore. The story of Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a bat? That’s folklore as well."

Furtado showed up on the scene in the fall of 2000, 20 years old, with the release if her acclaimed debut, Whoa, Nelly! Radio tracks such as I’m Like A Bird and Turn Off The Light, both Top 10 hits on the Billboard singles charts, introduced listeners to a young Canadian, British Columbian by birth and Portuguese by heritage, who brought a self-styled vibrancy to the diverse musics she whipped together: hip-hop, Portuguese fado, pop, soul, classical, Brazilian, dance, folk, Latin and anything else that seemed expressive and alive to her.

Working with the production team of Track and Field (Gerald Eaton and Brian West) in Toronto, where she has lived since her late teens, Furtado struck fans and musicians as that extraordinary thing, a genuinely real and talented person. The songs she wrote and sang in her alert voice were about feelings old, new and futuristic; local and international; serious and daft; historic and chic; and the music was as inventively rhythmic as it was melodic. For all of this, Furtado and Whoa, Nelly! were recognized. Among slews of other citations and nominations, the Canadian Juno Awards named Furtado its Best New Solo Artist and Best Songwriter in 2001, and at the 2002 Grammy Awards, I’m Like A Bird won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

Whoa, Nelly! remained a presence in the marketplace for two years, a lifetime by pop music standards. But as Folklore demonstrates, that was only the beginning. The new album’s songs produced by Track and Field and Furtado further develop the ideas and emotions that have long compelled Furtado. And with her ever-upbeat sense of fusion and generosity, and without sacrificing zing or immediacy, her music continues to ignore the stylistic restrictions that can leave pop music stale. One need look no further than first radio track Powerless (Say What You Want) for evidence of this.

Furtado (signed by DreamWorks A and R exec Beth Halper) began Folklore by making demos of the songs she had written while headlining shows across North America on her 2002 Burn In The Spotlight Tour. At first, she worked on her own. "But then at some point I went, ‘Hmm,’" Furtado says, "'I miss working with Track and Field.' Because I find that, when I work with them, my music comes together really quickly, very effortlessly. And it’s fun which, above all, music should be; if you’re not having fun there’s no point. So, we started working together in Santa Monica [Calif.] last spring."

Furtado realized that her new songs were somewhat different from her earlier material. "I think I’ve grown a lot," she says. "A lot of the songs on my first album, I was a teenager still; I was just kind of writing, writing away, and hadn’t experienced all that stuff. My first album was very aware of how I didn’t want to tour with a somber record. Therefore I recorded a happy, energetic record on purpose, because I didn’t think I was strong enough to go onstage and stand behind melancholic songs. I just wanted to share goodness and positivity and bright colours with the world. Now, I’m stepping back and understanding that I can do both; I can still be positive and yet really raw and real at the same time. In the past I’ve hidden behind a lot of metaphors. There’s always a veil in front of that. Now, it’s more like whoa, whoa, there’s nothing to hide behind. I’m far more comfortable in my skin, I suppose."

Musically Furtado remains as adventurous as ever, a product of hip-hop freedom who still likes the streamlined U.S. pop and gnarly guitar rock she grew up on. Yet she never allows those passions to close down her thirst for the reality of folk and the flair of international forms. The first song that ever swept her away was a tune by an earlier fusion-minded soul, Prince. The song was Power Fantastic, which Furtado encountered on a friend’s mix tape. "I had never heard anything like it," she remembers. "I think because it was so very lush and gorgeous, his voice. But at the same time, the level of emotion was high." Ultimately Furtado would go on to love the work of artists as different as Smashing Pumpkins and Jeff Buckley, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Caetano Veloso. (Veloso, along with banjoist Bela Fleck and the Kronos Quartet make guest appearances on Folklore.)

As the child of Portuguese parents who immigrated to Canada, Furtado has always heard these many genres through the prism of Portuguese folk and religious musics. "I look at music with a very open mind and really wide lens," she says. "When you don’t have any boundaries, you’re limitless, you can do anything because you have no bias. There’s a difference between having no bias and having no taste. You can navigate your way through all sorts of genres, which is what I like to do." Furtado’s career, as well as her music, amply demonstrates this.

In 2001 she sang on a remix of Missy Misdemeanor Elliot’s Get Ur Freak On, while in 2002 she recorded Fotografia, a duet with celebrated, Grammy-winning Colombian singer-guitarist Juanes, which hit #1 on the Latin charts.

For all her interests, Furtado remains as rooted in her Portuguese ancestry, and her intriguing thoughts and memories about her heritage animate Folklore. The church music she grew up with, for example, can function as a musical agent of transcendence. "I could be at my aunt’s barbecue," Furtado explains, "at her house, in her kitchen, making food, cooking chicken, drinking port wine. And someone will pull out a church book, a little songbook, and start singing. And I’ll just start singing. It becomes non-church, really, something that connects people to their homelands. I do believe that my melodic sensibility comes from growing up with all this great Portuguese folk church music. It’s weird. It’s just a melody and a lyric, but you feel as though you’re somewhere else when you hear it."

Her desire to fashion what she calls a post-folk record informed Furtado’s recent recording. "I really wanted to make a record that played on folk themes but was very modern at the same time," she says. "Folk is universal; it exists in every single country, every nation, every language, this idea of somebody picking up a guitar and singing about what’s around him or her. It’s spontaneous, real, down-to-earth, family-oriented. We’re playing with those themes, with taking folk instruments from all these different countries. That’s why we’ve included things like a banjo and accordion, trying to mix it up a bit."

"The goals of this collection," Furtado says, "crystallized in her mind when she was on vacation last year, spending time in The Azores, the Portuguese island group in the mid-Atlantic where her family originates.

I was visiting a grandparent of a friend of mine, an elderly woman," she recalls. "I was at her house, and she had all the beautiful old antique photos laid out on her cement terrace on the top of this hill. So, all these old photos were laid out on this cement table; all her things were outside the house. And it started to rain a bit, and she had all her clothing hanging on the clothesline. And on top of this beautiful hill, I could see the ocean below, and the hills over there. And in the distance, I heard a young person drive by with their booming system cranking techno music."

For Nelly Furtado, it all makes happy/sad, folky/hip-hoppy, weird/logical, hopeful kind of sense. "I would love to be described as a girl sitting on the porch," she says, "on a rocking chair singing to the wind. Kinda like a person on the street walking around, seeing what I see. I want to capture the wisdom of what I’ve learned from my ancestors, from my grandparents and all my heritage, going back to the old country. I would love to be seen as a woman, as a girl cackling at the world, but praying for it at the same time."

Thanks to for submitting the biography.

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