Victoria's Nelly Furtado says a trip to Kenya to help build a school has changed her life

Nelly Furtado is a month or two away from completing the songs on her fifth album, Lifestyle, which the Victoria native expects will be in stores by next spring.

By the time the record arrives, it will be nearly two years past its initial release date - a production delay which Furtado has no problem explaining. "It's been a long process, but my albums always take forever, even when I think they are going to be fast," Furtado, 32, said this week.

"I go through processes. I like time to recreate myself and live. If you don't change, the music doesn't change, either. And that takes time."

Furtado, who lives in Toronto, underwent a dramatic change of her own earlier this year.
The multiple Juno and Grammy award winner travelled to Kenya for eight days in February to accompany Artbound, a non-profit volunteer arts organization associated with the children's charity Free The Children. The project that piqued her interest was the building of an all-girls secondary school in Maasai Mara, an area of Kenya where fewer than five per cent of the girls who live in the region have an opportunity to attend high school.

Due to budgetary concerns, only 40 girls were accepted into the new school, named Kisaruni, resulting in heartbreak for the hundreds who applied but did not get in.
The magnitude of the project struck Furtado immediately and she signed on for the trip. Her experience was captured on film and woven into the documentary, Nelly Furtado: The Road to Kisaruni.

"It sounds like such a cliché but it was really a life-changing experience," said Furtado, 32. "Anything that impactful is going to change your perspective. It made me realize that no matter where somebody is, all that matters is that they are given an opportunity."

Furtado was given an opportunity of her own, years ago, which she eventually turned into a successful recording career. Over the course of four studio albums and collaborations with the likes of Michael Bublé, Justin Timberlake, Elton John and Bryan Adams, she has become one of pop music's most bankable and versatile performers.

She has a daughter, Nevis, and husband, Demacio Castellón, who support her as she leads a truly unconventional life. That is something Furtado says she has never taken for granted.
Her trip to Africa further reinforced her thoughts on the matter.
Playing music for a living is a gift, Furtado says, but without the help and support of family and friends, a major piece of the puzzle is missing.

"I think what struck me the most was that feeling of hope for the future. I used to garner inspiration from the past, and get inspired by other decades or romanticize other eras.
"I would feel bleak about the future, because it's so easy to be negative about the world. But after my trip, I realized that half the world is still very in touch with what it means to be human - the spiritual side, the cultural side, the community aspect and traditions."

As a result of her trip, and the friendships that emerged, Furtado says she's making every effort to be a better person. It's hard not to want that, she says, after meeting the people of Maasai Mara.
"The whole experience was quite haunting. I couldn't get the songs out of my head, I couldn't get people's faces out of my head. It was really moving."

Furtado forged some unique friendships while shooting the documentary, which focuses both on the journey to build the school and the students who will one day fill its classroom.
She became close with one student who did not get accepted into the school, a bright light named Susan who was adopted by her mother, Monica, at age four. The mother and daughter wind up playing a central role in The Road to Kisaruni, and have since become a big part of Furtado's life.
"The first day I was there was a big celebration. The community was there and there was a ribbon cutting. The next day I met Susan, who didn't get into the school and who is pining to be with her friends at this great school, and who wants an education to become a doctor. It made me realize there are thousands of Susans out there.

"That made me feel hopeful for the future. There's billions of other girls just like them around the world who, given the opportunity, will also flourish and have their dream come true."
Furtado says she will return to the area next year, with her own daughter in tow. She has kept close ties with others who appear in the film, including the Kenyan Boys Choir. Furtado is performing with the choir in Toronto on Sept. 27 and will head into the studio with them before they return home.
Furtado expects the collaboration will appear on her new album.

Her African journey, and all that came out of it, proved to Furtado how powerful music truly is. At one point in the film, the students ask her to sing one of her songs. She chooses Powerless (Say What You Want), a song she wrote about empowering oneself.

Later in the film, the choir serenades her with a version of the song.
"They still get together and sing, just for any reason," she said of the people in Maasai Mara. "It's part of their daily lives. When I wrote the song Powerless, I was feeling a certain emotion.
"Many years later, they had never heard that song and I sang it for them. They were immediately begging me to learn it. It was surreal. Music is that strong. Music is that universal."

Nelly Furtado's: The Road to Kisaruni airs on CTV on Saturday at 7 p.m.

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