The term “pop music” is rarely thought synonymous with musical sounds that are reflective or socially aware. For an artist that has always considered herself a pop vocalist from an early age, Nelly Furtado is one of the few artists who can take a social issue and make it “pop” through a conventional musical piece.
The song “Believers” from her recent album Spirit Indestructible is a reminder of how a social issue can sneak into a seemingly regular chant, reminding us of a time that etched itself in our minds like only a few other recent events would. It is hard to forget the Arab Spring. In fact, one can scarcely count on one hand names of artists that actually took time to write about it, especially those as notable as Nelly.
During the more recent Idle No More protests in Canada (which also coincided with her Canadian tour) some fans even held up protest placards that read “Our spirits are indestructible.” She recalls that time. “I’m happy that the positivity in the song connects with people in a real way,” she says. “I think that’s more valuable and that outlives anything else.”
Nelly Furtado mixes musical styles and explores cultural fusions. “I don’t see music in terms of genre,” she explains, “I see music as one big genre called music.” She views creating music as an endless process of discovery. For instance, her recent album saw her collaborate with the Kenyan Voice Choir. Interestingly, her philanthropic work involves building girls’ schools in the Masaai region of Kenya. “It’s different kinds of voices and musical harmonies,” she says of the choir. “The way they sing and their contribution was very inventive.”
Her love for collaborations has seen her pair up with some interesting artists throughout her career. Recent collaborations include fellow Canadian artist Knaan. (An interesting fact is that they share a past in track and field). “I always sensed a real purity in Knaan’s message and a real sense of responsibility within him.” She adds that she always admired his conviction to tell his truths through his music.
Recently she discovered other musicians that also peak her interest. She met former South Sudanese child soldier-turned musician, Emmanuel Jal at a peace conference held in Syracuse for the Dalai Lama. She also met Angelique Kidjo from Benin at the same conference.
Another highlight was meeting Mustafa Ahmed, a 17-year-old spoken word artist from Toronto whose accolades include an inspirational TED Talk. “Every time I get to collaborate with anyone from anywhere,” she reflects, “it’s always such an educational experience for me and always inspiring.”
Being from British Columbia, she says her musical influences grew to reflect a neo-hippie flavour and energy in her approach to music or jamming. There was a lot of improvisation in her earlier years, such as jumping on stage with all sorts of bands and freestyling.
With the added Portuguese folk element, Latin traditions and century-old island church songs from her native Sao Miguel Island, an eclectic musical foundation was established. This way, she stayed true to herself. “You have to believe in truth and you have to believe in honesty”, she reveals. “You have to believe that honesty finds an audience.”