Canadian singer Nelly Furtado arrived at the turn of the millennium with a sound that incorporated folk, bossa nova and other Latin influences — an unlikely mix for a contemporary mainstream pop singer from the Great White North. Born Nelly Kim Furtado on December 2nd, 1978, to parents of Portuguese descent, she grew up in a bilingual household in Victoria, British Columbia. Furtado gravitated to music early on, playing a variety of instruments including ukulele and guitar, and singing at Portuguese cultural events. When she reached grade school, she listened to the mainstream pop of Mariah Carey and Salt-N-Pepa, but soon discovered the more adventurous sounds of alternative rock and trip-hop acts ranging from Radiohead to Portishead and eventually other cultural traditions including Brazilian bossa nova and Eastern religious music.
After high school, she moved to Toronto, where she fell in with the underground hip-hop scene and formed the short-lived trip-hop outfit Nelstar, along with musician Tallis Newkirk. In 1997, she performed at an all-female urban talent show, attracting the attention of Gerald Eaton of Toronto funk band the Philosopher Kings, who helped her produce a demo tape. The sessions led to her DreamWorks record deal and some of the material ended up on her critically acclaimed debut, Whoa, Nelly! (Number 24, 2001), which included the singles “I’m Like a Bird” (Number Nine, 2001) and “Turn Off the Light” (Number Five, 2001). Even the caustic “Shit on the Radio (Remember the Days),” a song chastising an old friend for accusing her of selling out, managed to reach Number 34 on Billboard’s Top 40 Mainstream chart.
Furtado’s multi-culti dance pop earned her a 2001 Best Female Pop Vocal Performance Grammy for “I’m Like a Bird.” The more serious Folklore (Number 38, 2004) came a year after Furtado gave birth to her daughter, Nevis, and was less successful in terms of pop singles. But Furtado came back strong with a totally new sound in 2006. Teaming with hip-hop wunderkind Timbaland, Furtado shocked fans with Loose (Number One, 2006) and its three chart-topping singles “Maneater,” “Promiscuous” and “Say it Right.” The album also included a Spanish-language duet with Colombian pop-rock star Juanes on his song “Te Busque.” It was a returned favor, as Furtado had appeared on his 2002 breakthrough album Un Día Normal, dueting with him on the ballad “Fotografía,” which topped several Latin charts. Furtado toured in 2001, 2004 and 2007, and released the live DVD Loose the Concert in 2007. As of 2008 she was working on a new album scheduled for release that year.