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Singer-songwriter Nelly Furtado has sold more than 16 million albums and 18 million singles worldwide. She's gone multiplatinum in 32 countries and won a bevy of awards, including a U.S. Grammy and the Canadian and British equivalents.
But after Furtado recorded her last album, Mi Plan, in Spanish and took home a 2010 Latin Grammy for it, she was unsure about singing in English again. She even considered retiring as a pop musician.
In an interview with Tell Me More host Michel Martin, Furtado said, "After each album, I go through this phase where I kind of question everything, but then the music always pulls me back in. The music always gets me back in the studio, doing what I love to do."
Furtado's latest English-language album (her fifth album overall), The Spirit Indestructible, came out Tuesday.
Writing in Spanish taught her to think about songs in terms of themes, metaphors and things she never thought about when writing in English. "I took that back into The Spirit Indestructible — this new one — and I feel very proud of the lyrics. I think they're a lot more cohesive than my past work," she said.
The inspiration for the album came from a trip to Africa about two years ago to shoot a documentary for Free the Children. The charity has built hundreds of schools for youth and provides clean water and health care to millions of people worldwide.
Furtado said that while she was in Kenya, she felt a renewed sense of joy, an affirmation in hope, and an excitement for the future — all while reading books about the past, such as Isabel Allende's Island Beneath the Sea.
The album's title track was inspired by Spencer West. At age 4, West lost his legs due to a genetic disease. Now he's an author and a speaker for Free the Children.
Furtado explained, "He was going on this epic climb that he had been planning for years up Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa, to raise money for clean water projects and also to motivate his, you know, all these kids that kind of look up to him to redefine their 'possible.' And I thought, 'That's the true spirit indestructible!' "
Other songs on the album that follow that inspirational theme include "Believers (Arab Spring)," "Miracles" and "The Most Beautiful Thing." Furtado said that people have to take the time to live, and that making mistakes, falling down and getting up again is all part of living — ideas she likes to explore in her songs. "Music is soul food, and I think you find the hungry people whereever they are," she said.
Furtado's sound has evolved over the years. Whoa Nelly! (2000) belongs to the mind, Folklore (2003) belongs to the heart, Loose (2006) belongs to the body and The Spirit Indestructible (2012) belongs to the spirit, she said.
She always tries to make her songs universal, she said, but she recognizes that her musical journey has alienated some fans.
"You have successes, you have failures and everything in between, but at the end of the day, the music speaks louder than all of that. And when you see people singing certain songs at your shows, it always makes you feel better, you know?"