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Nelly Furtado: 'It's all an obsession'

Nelly Furtado performing live in LA


(CNN) -- When it comes to music, there's nothing Nelly Furtado won't try. At 22, the Portuguese-Canadian singer/songwriter can skillfully put the strums on a ukulele and an electric guitar, the bangs on a drum kit and blow hot air into a trombone. She'll sing in English, Portuguese and Hindi, hip-hop with the best of them and hold a melodious high note with perfect pitch.

"It's all an obsession for me," she says.

An obsession that's paid off.

In March, Furtado scooped up four Juno Awards, Canada's equivalent of the Grammys, for her debut album "Whoa, Nelly!" Her hit song "I'm Like a Bird" won Best Single, while she won Best New Solo Artist, Best Songwriter and shared the Best Producer award.

"Whoa Nelly!", which was released last October, features a mix of pop, rock, hip-hop, urban trip-hop and R&B combined with folk and Latin rhythms that reflect Furtado's Portuguese roots.


Furtado on recording "I'm Like a Bird"

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Furtado on what inspires her

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Too broad-ranging to categorize, her style is a reflection of the array of music she's been exposed to growing up, from Brazilian beats to her family's marching band to the Smashing Pumpkins.

"Lately I've called it international hip-pop," she laughs. "Hip-pop! Get it?"

Born in Victoria, British Columbia, to working-class, Portuguese immigrants, Nelly says she's no stranger to standing out from the crowd. Being the only Portuguese-speaking person in her elementary school left her feeling alienated at times.

But this certainly didn't ruffle her feathers. On the contrary -- Furtado's uniqueness fueled her curiosity about other cultures and led her to develop an adventurous, free-thinking spirit that comes across in her music, her live performing and her conversation.

"I guess I like being the discoverer, you know, finding things," she says. "I like seeking out and like being the one to discover things on my own."

World Beat recently spoke with the energetic, young songbird to find out what makes her fly and where she's headed next.

World Beat: Where were you when you found out about the Juno Award nominations and how did you feel about the news?

Furtado: I was in De Moines, Iowa, doing radio promotions, and my manager kinda called me and told me, so it was like really, really, really exciting.


It's a milestone. It's important to your career. Award shows are kind of like stepping stones really. ItŐs a time to reflect and it's nice to be acknowledged. And I thought it meant a lot especially for me because as a Portuguese-Canadian performer and artist, I think my record reflects multi-culturalism, maybe a multi-culturalism we haven't really seen coming from a Canadian CD on an international level. I thought it was nice to have my own CD honored.

World Beat: Tell us about your earliest memories with music.

Furtado: The first time I was on a stage I was only four and I was singing a duet with my mother. And it was in Portuguese so I was singing in Portuguese before English. Even before that I can remember taking piano lessons with my brother and sister who were also very musical as we were children.

My grandfather, he was a conductor and his brother composed music and they all played several instruments, so there's this heritage in my family of musicianship. And I always knew about it and I always heard about it. So I started playing instruments really young, too.

But I always remember the first time I walked on that stage -- it was for about 300 people -- and I knew right away that I loved connecting with people on a stage and that one day, I'd be singing for thousands of people. I knew when I was four years old.

World Beat: Tell us a little about the making of "Whoa, Nelly!"

Furtado: A lot of the singles like "I'm Like a Bird" and "Turn Off the Light," I wrote those in solitude with my guitar, and I really like to be that sort of Neil Young style songsmith. But then there's another side of me that's really that hip-hop MC Nelly, like Nell Star, that was the trip-hop Nelly (laughs) who just gets to a studio and is like "Hey, let's hear the track" and likes to work on it and then just get in the vocal booth and freestyle.

World Beat: What is it you would ultimately like to accomplish in the future?

Furtado: My working-class background and my heritage really shapes who I am and in the future, I think I want to follow in those persuits and just stay really true to myself. You know, (I have) different political goals and humanitarian goals that I know will happen eventually, but for now I'm content to creatively just kind of try to move forward.

I've really only scratched the surface so far. There are so many things I want to do. I do want to make a record in Brazil, and I do want to make a Portuguese album in the next five years.

Nelly Furtado
Canada's Juno Awards

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