When Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll, a Colombian of Lebanese descent, arrived at Emilio Estefan’s studios in Miami in 1998, she was twenty years old and already well-known in her native Colombia and in Latin America. Shakira could sing. She could dance. And she loved rock and roll. Her 1999 album, Pies Descalzos (Barefoot), had established her as an alternative rock and roll star with an Alanis Morissette persona. It yielded six hit songs, including the whimsical, tongue-twisting “Estoy Aquí” (I Am Here) that became one of the classic songs of Latin rock and roll.
Estefan, creator of the Miami Sound Machine, saw in Shakira “a baby full of talent,” and began to plan her crossover into the English and international markets. Emilio had succeeded in transforming Gloria Estefan into a queen of Latin pop, and had worked with Marc Anthony, Jennifer López and Ricky Martin, helping Sony Record’s Tommy Mottola create a Latin explosion in the mainstream market. While continuing to capitalize on Shakira’s popularity in the Spanish-language market, Emilio searched for a distinctive style to launch Shakira internationally. He found it in her Lebanese roots.
“Ojos Así” (Eyes like These), with Middle Eastern undertones and a video featuring Shakira’s provocative belly dancing, catapulted the young Colombian into stardom as the signature track on the album “Donde Están Los Ladrones?” (Where Are the Thieves?). Though the title of the album referred in part to Shakira’s despair at the theft at the Bogotá airport of the lyrics she had been writing for the album, many of its songs are filled with lyrical poetry, sometimes unabashedly romantic. It was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1999 for Best Latin Rock Album.
With the encouragement of Gloria Estefan, Shakira learned English, mastering it so that she could write songs in English herself. She broke into the English-language market in 2002 with her fifth album, Laundry Service, which sold 13 million copies worldwide. Its lead single, “Whenever, Wherever,” a translation of the Spanish language hit “Suerte,” talks about the role of fate in Shakira’s romantic life. It became a top-selling single in 2002.
Her success was solidified with her sixth and seventh albums—one in Spanish, Fijación Oral, Volumen Uno (Oral Fixation, Volume One)—and one in English, Oral Fixation, Volume Two. The latter spawned one of the best-selling songs of the 21st century, “Hips Don't Lie,” which she sang in a duet with Wyclef Jean of The Fugees. With over 1.3 billion views, it is one of the most-watched music videos on YouTube.
Shakira's eighth and ninth albums, She Wolf (2009) and 2010’s Sale el Sol (The Sun Comes Out) received critical praise, as did the single “Waka Waka” (This Time for Africa), released on May 7th, 2010 as the official FIFA World Cup song.
Shakira herself wrote most of her self-titled tenth album, Shakira (2014). Describing the album before its release, she wrote, “I am enough. Imperfections and all. So what I am offering you now is just that. Shakira. Nothing more. A little bit of rock, a little bit of folk, a little reggae and naturally some dance—but as always, and above all, a lot of heart.”
Shakira has won five MTV Video Music Awards, two Grammy Awards, eight Latin Grammy Awards, seven Billboard Music Awards, and 28 Billboard Latin Music Awards. She has sold 100 million albums, making her the best-selling South American singer and one of the best-selling Latin artists of all time. Her charity, The Pies Descalzos Foundation (The Barefoot Foundation), named for her first breakout album, helps impoverished children worldwide.
Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin and Shakira are the most successful artists of the so-called Golden Age of Latin Music which reshaped America’s cultural landscape for the twenty-first century.
Shakira is married to Spanish football star Gerard Piqué, of the team FC Barcelona. The couple has two children. She is currently working on a new album, to be released in 2017.
Credit: Retna, Ltd./Larry Marano