Nelly Furtado gives pop music a much-needed boost

If the manufactured sound and played-out style of today’s pop music is getting you down, the arrival of 22-year-old Nelly Furtado should come as a refreshing change. Like a crisp winter wind, this young starlet hails from Canada, but her effervescent smile and daring musical style carries a vitality reminiscent of much warmer locales.

Furtado, who comes to the 9:30 Club April 2, is not a product of “Star Search,” nor did she get her big break in a shopping mall tryout. She is a talented self-made musician who has channeled her diverse musical background into her own distinctive style.

Growing up in Victoria, British Columbia, with a Portuguese family background, Furtado was exposed to a wide range of cultures, awakening in her a broad musical awareness. Music had always been an integral part of this singer’s life, from performing in front of hundreds of churchgoers at the ripe age of four to strumming the ukulele as a youngster and playing the trombone in the school marching band.

“I have a lot of ammunition, more than the average 22 year old, because I started so young,” Furtado said in a recent interview with The Hatchet. “I grew up listening to (Brazilian artist) Caetano Veloso, because of my parent’s Portuguese heritage. I was inspired by singers like (Pakistani) Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Jeff Buckley. Those elements aren’t all apparent on a 12-song pop album, but that’s the research that goes into it.”

Over time Furtado successfully coalesced all of the musical styles she treasures, including everything from trip-hop to bossa nova to hip-hop and R&B, developing her own musical creation. Her debut album, Whoa Nelly! (Dreamworks), received rave reviews and her live performances have wowed crowds of all ages throughout the country.

But more impressive than her debut album, amazing stage presence and drop-dead looks is the personal side of Nelly Furtado. In an industry full of prima donnas, Furtado stands out from the crowd as a focused, self-conscious woman first, and as a successful singer second.

I had the opportunity to meet Furtado in April of 1999, outside of a nightclub in Cancun, Mexico. At the time she was just a 20-year-old girl looking for her path in life, and my “interview” was an old-fashioned boy-meets-girl conversation that has blossomed into a two-year friendship. What impressed me about Furtado then still holds true today; she is a happy-go-lucky free spirit who takes every ounce of success with appreciation while retaining her young-girl wonder.

Although Furtado was matter-of-fact about her desire to become a professional singer then, it was apparent that she had the composure and motivation to pursue her dream. It was no surprise 20 months later when her debut album made a big splash.

Her approach to life is simple and can be applied to everything from her studio recordings to performances on “The Tonight Show.” As she put it, “I just act like myself and it all runs pretty smoothly.”

What is it about her music that is causing such a stir? First and foremost, it is her ability to unite a diverse collection of musical styles. Her m?lange of music guides the listener across the globe from an English club to a Brazilian beach to the mountains of India and back to America’s urban streets.

Unlike many young artists, Furtado’s style is her own.

“That’s part of the love of it, the challenge of making pop music,” Furtado said. “To be musical and original in that format is extremely challenging. Everything I did before was like boot camp for this record: trip-hop, electronic music, drum ‘n’ bass, hip-hop. I’m lucky because I have two sides to me. One side is the formally trained musician, and the other side just loves expression.

Furtado’s record is full of innovative rhythms and tight compositions. But what is impossible to miss in her beautiful billowing voice is an energetic, enchanting personality. For those listeners seeking what sweet sounds the future of pop music has to offer, look no further. Nelly Furtado is here to stay.

Nelly Furtado will be at The 9:30 Club on April 2

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