Born on December 2, 1978, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, to Portuguese-Canadian parents; children: Nevis (daughter), born 2004. Education: Attended Camosun College, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Addresses: Record company--DreamWorks Records, 9268 West 3rd St., Beverly Hills, CA 90210, phone: (310) 288-7700, website: http://www.dreamworks.com. Website--Nelly Furtado Official Website: http://www.nellyfurtado.com.
At the young age of 24, Nelly Furtado was already making waves in the music industry, winning her first Grammy and proudly representing both her Portuguese and Canadian backgrounds. The youngest of three children born to immigrant parents in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, her father was a landscaper and her mother a chambermaid. As a child, young Nelly was exposed to many different types of music as her mother was also a talented singer and often held choir practices in the family home. Furtado was constantly encouraged to sing and by 12, she had written a few songs of her own. While her mother passed down her singing gifts, Furtado's father and brother also played pivotal roles in her musical development. They both had diverse record collections through which she would often forage. At night, she listened to Billy Joel, Blondie, and the Brazilian star Caetano Veloso.
Furtado's rich ethnic heritage also influenced her musical exploration. "You wouldn't even believe how real the people are on the [Azores]," she told Entertainment Weekly's Neil Drumming. "They're straight-up old world. Going there ever since I was 9 years old really made a mark on me. Just from seeing the old buildings and the wonderful elderly people and their faces and their devotion to religion, or the devotion to keeping their houses looking nice, or their devotion to making the best stew. I have that in me."
In school, she was introduced to hip-hop and R&B. She took to music naturally; it boosted her confidence in a place where she felt she didn't totally fit in. "I'd never see any Portuguese people on TV, and that really struck a major chord with me. And so I was like 'One day I'm gonna be on TV, and Portuguese kids are gonna see me on TV and they're gonna feel proud, they're gonna feel right,'" she told Christopher John Farley in Time International.
Furtado had worked hard to develop her singing voice and by the end of high school, she had learned to play the trombone and ukulele as well. She also joined the school's marching band and regularly took part in Victoria's Portuguese cultural festival. When she was just 17, she moved across Canada to Toronto, where she lived with her older sister. With her strong interest in hip-hop, Furtado started the group Nelstar and played local clubs whenever she could. While her live performance skills were sharply honed, she wasn't quite confident enough to record an album, though she did make some quick demos with the production duo Track and Field--Gerald Eaton and Brian West of Canadian indie stalwarts the Philosopher Kings. She soon moved back to the West Coast, however, and enrolled in the creative writing program at Camosun College. She taught herself guitar by listening to her brother's rock albums and she began to write music more proficiently. Back in Toronto, though, her short demo caught the attention of DreamWorks Records. With an offer to record, Furtado immediately moved back to Toronto to begin work on Whoa, Nelly! with Eaton and West.
The result was an amalgam of styles--hip-hop, jazz, reggae, Portuguese fado (traditional folk music)--and a pop-chart juggernaut. Among the talents enlisted for the record were guitarist James McCollum, Portuguese guitarra player Nuno Cristo, and scratch deejay Jasper "Li'l Jaz" Gahunia who would also perform with Furtado on the subsequent "Burning in the Spotlight" tour.
With a massive promotional push, the 2001 single "I'm Like a Bird" took off on the pop charts, eventually going multiplatinum. The record however, was far more diverse than its first single indicated and Furtado was scared that it gave listeners a shortsighted view of her. "It's always strange when you have this monster single that doesn't sound too much like anything else on your record," she told Drumming. "Because some people may get a different idea of who you are without digging deeper into the record." Not to worry: On top of mountains of fawning press, Rolling Stone's James Hunter called Whoa, Nelly! "spastic like high-impact hip-hop, melodically durable like big-time pop and soulfully, intelligently, sensuously international."
The following February, Furtado was invited to perform at the Grammy Awards. At the ceremony she received the award for Best Female Vocal Performance for her hit song "I'm Like a Bird." That year she also took home Juno Awards (the Canadian Grammy equivalent) for Best New Solo Artist, Best Single, Best Songwriter, and Best Producer (with Eaton and West). Furtado followed up the record with the aforementioned tour and a few dance-inflected hip-hop collaborations with Missy Elliott, Timbaland, and the Roots.
Her next studio effort, Folklore came nearly three years later, and under slightly different circumstances. Her well-oiled production team was still with her but now she was pregnant with Gahunia's child and had admittedly mellowed out a bit. "About a year after my first album came out, I decided I wanted to make a modern folk record," Furtado told Steven Mooallem of Interview. "As we started working, I began falling in love with all these stringed instruments--the banjo, the Portuguese ukulele, and the dulcimer, all of which are on this record. And we focused a little more on the songwriting than on frenetically switching the genres five times in one song, the way we did on the last record. There's something so pure about a guitar and a vocalist, or somebody singing in the street, so the idea was to take that essence and make a folk record for 2003 ...."
Unfortunately, Folklore wasn't as quickly embraced by the press. "I don't have an 'I'm Like a Bird' on this album, that's for sure," she admitted to Drumming. "DreamWorks would love it if there was a great, bangin' 'Powerless' remix but sometimes it just doesn't make sense. You can't totally reinvent a song," she said of the record's decidedly different tone.
Never terribly fazed by what critics thought of her music, Furtado preferred to let her fans' opinions gauge her popularity. When Whoa, Nelly! was released, she had the chance to play in Portugal and, needless to say, was both excited and nervous to perform there. "What are they going to think of me? I'm this kid. I'm Portuguese, but I'm Canadian--and I'm Americanized," Furtado pondered rhetorically to Farley. Starting out with "Onde Estas," a song sung in Portuguese, the crowd erupted in rapturous applause and chanted Fadista, meaning fado singer. "It was the highest compliment they could have paid me," she said.
by Ken Taylor
Nelly Furtado's Career
Released Whoa, Nelly!, 2000; Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)-certified multiplatinum sales for Whoa, Nelly!, 2002; released Folklore, 2003; RIAA-certified gold sales for Folklore.
Nelly Furtado's Awards
Grammy Award, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "I'm Like a Bird," 2001; Juno Awards, Best New Solo Artist, Best Single, Best Songwriter, and Best Producer (with others), 2001.
- Entertainment Weekly, November 21, 2003.
- Interview, November, 2003.
- Rolling Stone, October 12, 2000.
- Time International, August 6, 2001.
- "Nelly Furtado," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 4, 2004).
- Nelly Furtado Official Website, http://www.nellyfurtado.com (March 31, 2004).