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Furtado gets dramatic in Spanish

16 September 09 07:43 GMT

By Mark Savage
BBC News entertainment reporter

Nelly Furtado has a confession to make.

Those hip-wiggling, rump-shaking, mid-riff-baring dance routines that accompanied her last album, Loose, weren't really her cup of tea.

"I'm not a natural dancer," the Portuguese-Canadian star discloses. "It takes a lot of effort for me to learn all that choreography.

"The last album was definitely a learning experience."

The aversion to choreography helps to explain why the singer-songwriter has abruptly changed style for her fourth album, Mi Plan.

The stone cold synths and juddering drum loops are out; acoustic guitars, cabasas and bongos are in. Oh, and the record is entirely in Spanish.

Spanish is not Furtado's first language - she was brought up speaking English until the age of four, then introduced to her parents' native tongue, Portuguese.

In fact, the Grammy-winner says she is only "50-60%" fluent en Espanol, so her linguistic gymnastics are a gutsy move. They were also something of a happy accident.

Last year, Furtado was in the studio, struggling to write lyrics to a song called My Plan when Cuban-Canadian singer Alex Cuba dropped by to say hello.

Hearing the work in progress, he suggested a few Spanish phrases which could work on the track. "And," says Furtado, "I really liked it".

"What's so great about Spanish pop music is that you can be extremely dramatic - you have a lot of emotional licence," she continues.

"In English, especially as a woman, the moment you start to be angry, you get labelled bad-tempered like Alanis Morissette, or if you're too sad, you get written off as fragile and sappy.

"On the single, Manos Al Aire, I'm very angry in the verse and super-vulnerable in the chorus. So it's very cool being able to straddle those two themes in one song.

"And I think it'd be a train wreck in English."

Focus shift

Latin America is a big music market, worth some $518m (£313m) last year, but it pales in significance to North America - where foreign-language records traditionally sell poorly.

Even superstars like Shakira and Enrique Iglesias record English versions of their singles for the US and UK, so why would Furtado, whose last album sold more than 10m copies worldwide, jeopardise her sales in this way?

"I don't really measure success in terms of sales," she says with apparent sincerity.

"This album is fun for me, because I get to spend time in these amazingly cool countries like Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela.

"I'm doing interviews with magazines and radio stations I've never spoken to in my whole career. It's so cool, shifting the focus a little bit."

You get a sense that the 30-year-old is secretly happy to shed the celebrity baggage that came with the globe-straddling success of Loose.

She talks about the need to "get back to reality" after the "gruelling" two-year publicity blitz the album generated.

Once her tour finished in Kiev, the star jetted back to her home in Canada to re-familiarise herself with the mundanity of daily life.

She would drive her four-year-old daughter to school in the mornings, and spend the afternoons "making chicken noodle soup".

In 2008, she married Cuban-American producer Demacio "Demo" Castellon. They celebrated their first anniversary this July simply by "going out for a drink".

And, as the release of Mi Plan loomed, the family went to Portugal for a final break before the work of promoting a new record kicked in.

"We had an Iron Chef competition, men versus women," Furtado giggles.

"By the last day, the men went out spear fishing to catch their own fish, so they won."

'Doing the laundry'

There aren't any songs about hunting animals on Mi Plan - but little domestic details are scattered throughout the lyrics.

Suficiente Tiempo (Enough Time) describes the life of an overworked wife trying to make time for date night.

"The song is all about waking up in the morning, your apartment's a mess and there's no groceries," explains Furtado.

"People say to me 'don't you have somebody to buy groceries for you at this point?' but no, I don't!

"I like to live. If you're trying to make songs for people to connect with, you need to be living a regular life and doing your laundry."

Manos Al Aire (Hands In The Air), the aforementioned single, is about the point in an argument where you realise that fighting can only make things worse, and putting up your hands in surrender.

"I really think it's important to be the first person to say sorry," Furtado explains. "Even though there are times it should really be the other person.

"I always say that love is easy but relationships are hard. Love is strong but relationships are fragile."


Mi Plan marks a return to the organic, world music feel of Furtado's second album, Folklore.

It is a musical tapas-try of cumbia, reggaeton, bachata and flamenco - although the pop sensibility that made Maneater such a gargantuan hit is never far away.

Leading Latin pop figures like Julieta Venegas, Juan Luis Guerra and Concha Buika take the place of Justin Timberlake and Chris Martin, whose contributions bolstered Loose three years ago.

But, most importantly, the singer seems relaxed and comfortable in her own skin again.

"On the last tour, the acoustic moments were my favourite thing," she reveals.

"On this new album, I have three back-up singers who are all fluent in Spanish and they sound wicked. There are no dancers, which is refreshing because I don't have to think so much.

"I can just dance when I feel like it."

Nelly Furtado's album, Mi Plan, and single, Manos Al Aire, are both released this week on Universal Records.

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