Nelly Furtado (©MaryRozzi)
Nelly Furtado's homecoming record teaches her that human interaction is priceless
By Kathy Iandoli
Special to MSN Music
Nelly Furtado's 12-year arc as a solo artist has witnessed many turns. From her early beginnings with 2000's "Whoa, Nelly!" to the pensive folksiness of 2003's "Folklore," Furtado made a detour to hip-pop dance with 2006's "Loose." Then came her 2009 Spanish-language album, "Mi Plan." Each piece of her career has brought her to this very moment with her upcoming release, "The Spirit Indestructible." It's a homecoming of sorts for Furtado, whose earliest days were spent as a hip-hop-loving B-girl in Canada. However, the most important lesson Nelly learned with the creation of the new album is that human interaction is priceless.
MSN Music: In between your last English-speaking album to now, how would you describe that six-year break?
Nelly Furtado: Wooo! I'd say it was just catching up on a lot of things, like life, hobbies, catching up with family and friends, and catching up on other goals musically. I started my own label, called Nelstar Records, and the first act on it was Fritz Helder & the Phantoms. We were friends, and I had worked with them before, so I decided to release their album. We had some fun doing showcases in New York and L.A., and I followed them on tour and tried to do a documentary about them. I just really engaged and indulged my inner creative person and tried to have some fun. Then they broke up, so they're not on Nelstar anymore, but we had fun and that was a good launch for the label.
The next thing I released on Nelstar was my own Spanish album, "Mi Plan," in 2009. That whole process was awesome. I'd always wanted to do a Latin album, but then it just kind of happened because I met my main collaborator, Alex Cuba, by chance and we started writing this whole album. Our journey ended at the Latin Grammys when he won an award for Best New Artist and my album won for Best Pop Album. It was just a great experience and brought me to Latin America and re-engaged with a lot of my Latin fans and made a bunch of new ones as well, which is totally awesome.
Did you have any reservations coming back out?
A little bit, for sure. After every album I always say, "Oh, I'm going to quit! I'm going to retire! Oh my God, I'm going back to university or whatever!" You know, it gets hard. It's kind of rough sometimes. I mean, it's amazing, but it's also like a lot of pressure and you don't have a lot of freedom. You can't just write a song and put it online, you know what I mean? Because you're not an indie artist; you're on a major label, so you got to go through certain protocol. When you're a creative person and you're spontaneous like me, sometimes you just want to go down the street and play open mics, you know?
Your new album has some nods to hip-hop. You have a song like "Big Hoops" and even Nas on "Something."
I'm really a child of hip-hop and R&B. When I think back to those days, being a 12- or 13-year-old in my bedroom, putting the wire hanger onto the antenna of my radio so I could catch the Top 10 at 10 of Seattle's R&B station. I lived in Victoria, [B.C.], just north of the border, so we could get a few more of the stations. I'd buy Word Up and Rap Pages and watch "Pump It Up" with Dee Barnes. We just ate, drank and breathed hip-hop and R&B. It gave us life because we're in this small town and we transported ourselves through hip-hop. I would dream about working with people like Rodney Jerkins as a teenager. "Big Hoops" is written from the perspective of my 14-year-old self, putting her big hoops on, her backpack and her baggy jeans. It's an infectious energy, because I think at that age, life hasn't knocked you down at all, so you have this confidence and this essence of who you are.
Have you had any recent "aha" moments in your career?
Yeah, and this really hit home when I went to Kenya. I work with this organization called Free the Children. I became an ambassador this year officially, but my first trip to one of their communities that they work in was last year. I went to Kenya and I filmed this documentary, and it was all about this new high school for girls that they built in this rural region of Kenya. When I went there, I came with Dylan Murray, an artist that's the newest Nelstar signee. He and I performed some of my songs, like "Powerless," "Try" and "I'm Like a Bird." The song that they could not like really get out of their heads was "Powerless." These girls wanted to learn it. They kind of thought I was their music teacher when I came. They had never heard of me before, but they were like, "Oh, I want to sing that!" and they want this song, and it's kind of become their theme song! I went again this year with my daughter and they sang it to us, and they're just ... they love that song! That's the moment when I went, "Wow. It all is for a reason!" You go on these musical detours for a reason. It kind of made me realize that that's what really counts, you know?
It must be a humbling experience, too, because you're known everywhere and you went to a certain place and they thought you were their teacher, but yet even though they didn't know you as Nelly Furtado, your music still touched them. That's pretty amazing.
Yes, that's what really hit me, too! I actually got goose bumps when you said that! I think it reaffirmed what I do for a living. At the end of the day, even if I was just singing for 20 kids and that was my job, it would be just as important, because I'm just expressing my truth and just telling my story. That's all you can do in life, right? You can just tell your story, just live your dream. Whatever your gut tells you to do, like that's all you can do in this life. And I guess that's what I try to do.
Kathy Iandoli has written for publications including The Source, YRB, BUST, XXL, VIBE, RIME and Vapors, and her work has appeared online at MTV, AOL and MSN Music sites. She is the former Alternatives editor of AllHipHop.com and the current music editor of HipHopDX.com.