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As the Colombian patrons of the Middle Eastern restaurant applauded the little girl belly dancing on the table, little did they know that she would grow up to be one of the biggest selling female artists in the world. Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll (Shakira) has put Colombia on the music map and shown that beautiful and sexy women can possess incredible talent.
Shakira was born in Colombia in February 1977 and owes her exotic looks to her Lebanese, Spanish and Italian heritage. An early performer, particularly of dance, Shakira also had a talent for writing poetry, which ultimately led her to writing songs, something she still does to this day.
She began singing locally around her hometown of Barranquilla and caught the eye of a local theatre producer, Monica Ariza who convinced a Sony Records executive to listen to a recording of Shakira singing. Sony was suitably impressed and signed the young singer to a local label. At the age of just 13, Shakira recorded her first album, “Magia” which contained a collection of songs she had written. The album did not fare well commercially although Sony still had faith in her and persuaded her to record a follow-up album. “Peligro” was released in March 1993. Although it sold better than its predecessor did, it still didn’t do as well as everyone hoped. Shakira put music side to complete her high school education and graduated before turning her hand at acting, appearing in the Colombian TV Series, “The Oasis”.
Her next venture into the music world was very much different. “Pies Descalzos” was the first album that Shakira produced as well as wrote and sang for. Containing the hit song “¿Dónde Estás Corazón?”, originally recorded for a Colombian compilation album, the album was only expected to sell 100,000 copies. It went on to sell five million copies and achieve platinum status. Recorded in Spanish, the album and subsequent singles dominated the Latin American charts both in South America and in the USA. To capitalise on her success, Shakira embarked on her first international tour in early 1996 to promote the album before returning to the studio to record the follow-up.
“Dónde Están los Ladrones?” was co-produced with Emilio Estefan, Jr and was released in September 1998. The album went on to sell seven million copies worldwide, gave Shakira her first US single chart entry and won her a Latin Grammy for “Octavao Día” and “Ojas Así”. Following the success of the album, Shakira was invited to perform on MTV Unplugged in August 1999. The recording of the event went on to win Shakira a Grammy for Best Latin Pop Album in 2001 and sold over five million copies globally.
Having conquered the Latin American market, the next step for Shakira was to target the English-speaking world. She recorded her next album, “Laundry Service” in English, following in the footsteps of Spanish-speaking artists Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias who had all successfully made the move into the English market. The tactic worked. The first single from the album, “Whenever, Wherever” went to number one in many countries and gave Shakira her first Billboard top ten chart success in the USA. The album itself sold over 200,000 copies in its first week of release in the US and later went on to sell over 13 million copies worldwide. But not everyone was impressed with the work. Shakira was criticised in the music press for her English song writing skills with Rolling Stone saying “Shakira’s magic is lost in translation”. She also faced criticism from some of her Latin fans that believed she had sold out her Latin American fans for success in the American pop industry.
Shakira followed the release of the album with a global tour and also found time to join Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Cher for the VH1 Divas Live Las Vegas event and to pick up numerous awards around the world. Having established herself in the international charts and as a tour artist, Shakira took some time out to write and record her next album. Taking the decision to target both the Spanish and English speaking markets, Shakira released two albums back-to-back. Fijación Oral Vol. 1 came out in June 2005 and subsequently sold over two million copies in the US and over one million copies worldwide within three days of its release. Five months later, Shakira released Oral Fixation Vol. 2, in English, which, surprisingly, didn’t do as well for the singer in the US market as its Spanish counterpart. But it did, however, give Shakira her first number one single on the Billboard Hot 100. “Hips Don’t Lie”, featuring Wyclef Jean, was a worldwide smash and the accompanying video, won Shakira the 2006 MTV Video Music Award for Best Choreography.
Throughout 2006 and 2007, Shakira promoted the albums via her Oral Fixation Tour which also set another record for the most number of attendees at a concert in Mexico when 200,000 fans turned up to see her perform in a free concert.
Although Shakira took some time out to write and record her next album, “She Wolf” she still found time to take part in a peace concert in South America which called for the release of hostages held in her home country. She also signed a 10-year contract with Live Nation, which could see the singer earn up to $100 million over the next decade.
The title track from “She Wolf” was released in July 2009 and became an immediate hit worldwide, although the album did not do so well, selling only 1.5 million copies. Subsequent singles from the album also failed to perform well in either the US or international markets. In October 2010 she released her next album, “Sale el Sol”, which contained both English and Spanish songs, reflecting her love of Latin music on one hand and rock on the other. It proved to be a wise move on Shakira’s part. Within six weeks, the album had sold over one million copies and to date has sold over 4 million copies worldwide.
In mid-2010, Shakira found time to record the office song of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” was collaboration with the South African group, Freshlyground, and both artists performed the song at the opening and closing ceremony of the games.
It isn’t all about the music though. Shakira is as passionate about helping people, particularly children, as she is about her songs. In the mid-1990s, she established a Colombian charity – Pies Descalzos aka the Barefoot Foundation - to provide food and assistance to Colombian children on the poverty line. She has worked as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and is an advocate for children’s affairs both in South America and in the USA.
Shakira is one of the biggest selling Latin American crossover artists in the world. The pint-sized singer has taken control of her career by writing and producing her own work and while this had lead to mixed fortunes and equally varied success she has a bright future ahead of her as both a performer and a songwriter.