Access Magazine: Shakira (On the Cover)

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Miss Moon
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Postby Miss Moon » Fri Mar 15, 2002 4:40 pm


Fast-rising singing star Shakira is likely the only pop diva to have been praised by a Nobel Prize-winning author. Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years Of Solitude) once wrote that “no-one can sing or dance like Shakira. She has such an innocent sensuality, one that seems to be of her own invention.â€￾

The 24-year-old Colombian-born singer-songwriter is still a new name to much of North American, but she’s been a bona-fide star in the Latin market for quite some time. Her previous CD, Donde Estan Los Ladrones, went multi-platinum in the U.S., and now her English-language debut Laundry Service is bringing her crossover success.

Upon its November release in the States, Laundry Service sold a highly impressive 200,000 copies plus in the first week, entering the Billboard chart at No. 3. Shakira told then that “I had to look at the chart three times to convince myself it was true. I’m an optimistic person, so I thought I would do well — but not that well!â€￾ Response in Canada has been equally welcoming, with first single, ‘Whenever Wherever’ becoming a hit at video and radio.

Industry observers in North America first took real note of Shakira at the inaugural annual Latin Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in September 2000. She snared both the best female pop and best female rock vocal trophies at the show, while her performance of her Latin hit ‘Ojos Asi’ was one of those star-defining moments.

Shakira explained then that working on Laundry Service was her top priority. “I’m working night and day writing, but I’m also taking my time. When I’ve finished, I am going to sit down on a sofa, play my CD for the first time, and I know a smile will come to my lips.â€￾

The world is smiling upon Shakira, both professionally and personally. On the personal side, she recently became engaged to Antonio de la Rua, the son of a former president of Argentina. In celebrity terms, that would be the Latin American equivalent of a Backstreet Boy marrying Chelsea Clinton!

No wonder their relationship caught the attention of tabloid paparazzi. “It got really crazy,â€￾ says Shakira. “I have never seen anything like it: 50-year-old guys climbing trees like monkeys to be able to take pictures of me and my boyfriend — to catch us holding hands!â€￾

She has also become used to media exaggerations about her personal life. “They say I have a $10 million house. Once they said I’m the third richest woman in my country. Oh I wish! They enjoy speculating about my life, what I have, what I earn, and my love life. They have created romances that never existed.â€￾

Happiness in her love life has affected the tone of Shakira’s songwriting. Her earlier Spanish-language albums often featured angry songs, as the singer confessed in one recent interview. “They were written from another place. In Spanish, we have a word which means the opposite of love but is not exactly hate. Let’s make up a new word, dislove. I used to write from that place, and now I write from the place of love. I have a better understanding of how important love is. When something good happens to you, you have this impulse of going out and sharing it with the world. You wish everyone could experience the same. It is impossible not to write about love. It’s the great mystery of life.â€￾

The choice of album title reflects her new thoughts on the topic. “Before, I had a slightly narrow vision of love. Now I am feeling unguarded, and it feels great. I feel washed clean of the way I looked at things in the past, which is why I called the album Laundry Service.â€￾

Shakira’s male fans will unfortunately have to give up any fantasies based around that title. “I am definitely not a woman who washes her husband’s clothes every day!â€￾

She gets compared constantly to other female artists, with the list ranging from Madonna and Alanis Morissette to Britney Spears. “When a new artist appears, there’s a tendency of trying to associate that artist with something familiar. People are a little confused because they find similarities in my style to Alanis, but they think I’m under Britney’s wig! Eventually I’m going to earn my own place, so for now I can accept that as part of a natural process.â€￾

Shakira’s powerful and resonant voice and the rock focus of some of her material does merit comparison with Morissette, while Britney references are based on the visual. She didn’t help matters by recently switching from her natural brunette to a blonde look.

“I decided to become a blonde because I wanted a change,â€￾ she told “I’’m human, after all. When I see myself in the mirror, I wanted to see something different. Many people think I became blonde because I wanted to be more appealing for North American audiences, but that’s not true. It would be a much better marketing strategy at this moment to be brunette, because everyone is blonde now!â€￾

Whatever the motive for her current look, it is certainly working. It’s on vivid display in the hit (and hot) video for ‘Whenever, Wherever’. This features Shakira in the middle of the desert, mountains and a beach, gyrating like a snake being electrocuted. Clad in low-riding tight jeans, she shakes her hips belly-dance style. The result is sexier than a whole strip club full of Britney Spears clones!

It turns out that there’s a genetic link to Shakira’s convincing belly dancing moves. You see, she is actually half-Lebanese (on her jeweller father’s side), half Colombian.

That also accounts for the strong Middle Eastern influence on Shakira’s music, something that helps set her apart from her peers. She told Blender that “I don’t feel that I’m artistically similar to anybody right now, to tell you the truth. I have a unique musical proposal.â€￾ That’s not an arrogant declaration, but rather a sincerely self-confident statement.

Shakira’s sound is indeed a multi-cultural hybrid. Brazilian and tango flavours and Andean pan flutes reflect her Latin American heritage, while Middle Eastern rhythms and grooves mirror that side of her ancestry. Then there’s her sincere love of rock & roll.

“That’s my true passion,â€￾ she says, adding that “I’m also very curious about authentic music from other countries. My music is a reflection of all that. I try to do a fusion of elements belonging to many cultures, but do it in more of a rock & roll groove with electric guitars and all that. Although I was born and raised in Colombia, I listened to bands like Led Zeppelin, The Cure, The Police, Nirvana and the Beatles. I was so in love with that rock sound, but I am also devoted to Arabic tastes and sounds.â€￾
With a musical mandate and background like that, Shakira clearly deserves to be judged with contemporary rock acts, rather than lumped into some Latino category alongside the likes Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Enrique Iglesias.

There is a real sense of musical adventure on Laundry Service. For instance, ‘Objection (Tango)’ has a traditional accordion and piano intro, then adds a modern pop groove and a new-wave styled guitar sound. Very cool. Shakira displays both power and subtlety on a sensitive ballad like ‘Underneath Your Skin’, and is equally convincing on the rockier tunes.

The four Spanish-sung cuts on the album show she is still most at ease singing in her native tongue, however. As Village Voice writer Frank Kogan noted, “in Spanish she’s got a deeper timbre and richer tone, and her voice moves with the whole force of the sound.â€￾

A key role in Shakira’s challenging transition to working in English was taken by Gloria Estefan and her husband, Emilio (Shakira’s producer). Gloria sparked the process by translating ‘Ojos Asi’, a song from Shakira’s previous album, into English, and Shakira then began attempting to write songs directly in English.

“The first song I wrote by myself for Laundry Service was ‘Objection’,â€￾ she recalls. “I prayed and asked God to send me a good song today, and I started writing that song a couple of hours later. I wrote the music and lyrics at the same time, and when that happens it always seems magical to me.â€￾

The singer worked intensively to master writing in her new language. “I had to find a way to express my ideas, my feelings, my day to day stories in English. I bought a couple of rhyming dictionaries, read poetry and authors like Walt Whitman and Leonard Cohen.â€￾

From an early age, Shakira established herself as a control freak, creatively speaking. She was just 17 when she started work on her third album (she signed a record deal at 13), and insisted her label leave her alone in the studio. “I told them ‘let me do it my way. I want to see you guys in six months.’â€￾ That album (Pies Descalzos) sold 3.5 million copies worldwide, proving her way was the best way.

Similarly, she insisted the production sound of Laundry Service match her vision. “I felt I needed to make an organic record with real players in the studio playing live music and doing it like they made records 30 years ago. That’s why we used Terry Manning as engineer. He’s worked with AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Lenny Kravitz, and is somebody from the old school.â€￾

Shakira has equally good (and slightly old school) taste in her listening habits. “When I get in the car, I put on Iggy Pop or The Clash, especially London Calling. When I can relax at home, I listen to Bob Marley.â€￾

Let’s nominate Iggy’s ‘Lust For Life’ as an appropriate anthem for this exciting new star.


(Edited by Miss Moon at 2:35 pm on Mar. 15, 2002)

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