|That Shakira is one of the world’s biggest stars is no surprise to her. From a very early age, she planned it that way.
Growing up in Baranquilla, Colombia Shakira marched to her muse from the time she was a toddler. The daughter of a Colombian mom and a Lebanese-American dad, Shakira was influenced by cultures and the arts from around the globe. Her name in Arabic, means “full of grace.” At four, she wrote poetry and taught herself to belly dance by mimicking dancers she observed in a Middle Eastern restaurant. When she was eight, she wrote her first song, “Tus Gafas Oscuras,” (Your Dark Glasses) for her father. Of course, many children dream of becoming famous; but Shakira says that she was always sure that her dreams would come true. She believed that inspiring and delighting the world was her destiny.
Throughout her career, Shakira has blasted through world records, igniting and exciting fans across the globe. She’s sold over 60 million albums worldwide and has had #1 singles in more than 55 countries. She’s won two Grammys, eight Latin Grammys and 16 MTV Awards among many, many others. Her live performances are hot tickets, filling venues the world over with two sold-out world tours. Recently Shakira signed a business deal with Live Nation, a company that has agreements with the most important music acts today including U2, Madonna and Jay-Z. The ten-year deal covers performances, merchandise, media properties and music.
Shakira has been described as having “exhilarating charisma”, She relishes performing and effortlessly bonds will stadiums full of fans. Gabriel García Márquez, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist from Colombia, observed that "She has invented her own brand of innocent sensuality." Shakira writes her own music, produces her records and has a say in every detail of her art. A self-confessed “captain of her own ship,” she is clear about who she is what direction her art will take. So far, her steering has been spot on.
Often, an artist’s rise from star-to-be to star is pitted with fits and starts and downright derailments, and Shakira’s path is no exception. Shakira’s talent was acknowledged very early; at 14, she signed a three-record deal with Sony in Latin America. She had been performing in showcases in Baranquilla and gained the attention of a local theater producer, who sent an executive at Sony music a cassette tape of the teen. The music industry professional heard something special in Shakira’s already well-developed vibrato and played the tape for his higher ups. They were not impressed.
But, proving her will to succeed, Shakira and her one fan at Sony arranged a surprise face-to-face audition with the Sony team. One week after the audition, Shakira had her contract. In 1991, Shakira released her first record, Magia, in 1993. When she was 15, she graduated from high school. In 1994 her second album, Peligro, was released.
Her first two records, filled with sugary ballads, limped along, selling fewer than 1,000 copies each. Shakira knew that she could do better. These freshman and sophomore efforts weren’t truly reflective of who she was and what she had to offer – they hid her heart and her musical soul, which combined Latin roots, middle eastern music and hard-driving rock and roll.
At 16, she headed back to the studio to record Pies Descalzos an album that channeled her muses more directly; it was released in 1995. The record, with its global music influences and rocker style showed a new, edgier side of Shakira, and four hit singles followed. The album sold four million copies and established her fan base across Latin America.
Her star was rising. And, with it, so was Shakira’s social conscious. Early on, Shakira understood that her celebrity gave her both a responsibility and a platform for social change. Coming from one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere Shakira knew the horrible impact of poverty on a community. As soon as she had experienced success, she began giving back. In 1995, she founded Pies Descalzos, a Colombian-based foundation whose mission is to ensure that all Colombian children can exercise their right to a quality education. Pies Descalzos currently provides education, nutrition and educational resources to over 4,000 children in Colombia. There are four schools in operation, and another school and community center will open in 2009 in Baranquilla, serving 1,800 students and their families.
Establishing her foothold as a star in Latin America was the first step on Shakira’s journey to realize the dream she had when she was a little girl in Colombia. In 1998, she teamed up with Emilio Estefan, who executive produced her fourth album, Donde Estan Los Ladrones, with Shakira at the helm as producer. The record earned her the attention of fans in the US and across Europe; 11 of the songs were hit singles including “Ojos Asi” which she later performed on MTV’s first Spanish language version of “Unplugged.” The subsequent album release of that performance earned Shakira her first Grammy, for Best Latin Pop Album.
Shakira’s rising popularity in the US made Shakira, who is an eternal student, want to learn how to speak English so that she could write songs in English that English-speaking fans worldwide could relate to. She had already demonstrated a propensity for languages; Shakira speaks Spanish and Portuguese and a smattering of her father’s native Arabic. She is an avid student of literature, poetry, history and the arts, all of which inspire her musically. She mastered English quickly, studying the poetry of Walt Whitman and the work of her favorite songwriters including John Lennon and Leonard Cohen. The result was her first English language album in 2001, Laundry Service, which catapulted Shakira from Latin American superstar to global star. The album featured the hit “Whenever, Wherever,” and “Underneath Your Clothes.” The record, which also included four songs written in Spanish, sold more than 13 million albums worldwide. A world tour followed, and Shakira performed to sold-out stadiums around the globe.
2001 was an important year for Shakira in other ways. She fell in love and got engaged to Antonio de la Rua, the son of the former president of Argentina, Fernando de la Rua. Antonio, a lawyer, says it was love at first sight. The couple has been together ever since. And, shortly after the release of Laundry Service, Pies Descalzos opened its first school in Quidbo, Colombia, providing education to 250 students.
These milestones fueled her and were the genesis of the groundbreaking and hit-making 2005 Oral Fixation project. The two albums, one in Spanish, one in English, were released separately, 6 months apart in 2005. Fijacion Oral Vol. 1, the Spanish language album, reached No. 1 in more than 25 countries. Oral Fixation Vol. 2, with her biggest hit to date, “Hips Don’t Lie,” featuring Wyclef Jean, was an instant success. It was the most played pop song in a single week in American radio history. The song was also downloaded 1.5 million times.
The Oral Fixation project proved to be as popular with critics as with fans: in February 2006, Shakira won her second Grammy for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album and won the Latin Grammy for Album of the Year, among many other awards. “No one expects pop sex symbols to be as smart or ambitious as Shakira…She’s as poised as she is unpredictable,” wrote the NY Times.
In 2006, Shakira embarked on the Oral Fixation world tour, and played to over two million people in nearly 40 countries on four continents, who thrilled to her now infamous belly dancing. In the US, she filled Madison Square Garden, Miami’s American Airlines Arena and Los Angeles’ Laker’s Center. “Call her the most charismatic rock star of the new century,” gushed the Los Angeles Times. . Shakira then performed for 200,000 people in Mexico City’s Plaza del Zocalo, it was the largest crowd in Mexican history.
When the tour ended, Shakira re-directed her considerable energy to address universal education globally. She was named the chair of the Global Campaign for Education and continued her role as a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador. She founded ALAS, a coalition of artists and business leaders who are urging governments and donors from Latin America to make early childhood their top priority. And, she has extended the mission of Pies Descalzos to advocate for education globally with the formation the US-based Barefoot foundation, which works to advocate for governments to invest more in education programs in the developing world.
Because of her perseverance and commitment, Shakira has earned a seat at the table with global leaders. She has met with prime ministers, kings, presidents, the world’s most powerful businesspeople and global policy influencers all to promote the cause of global education. Her passion gets results. In 2008 she secured pledges of $200 million from the world’s second richest man, Carlos Slim Helu, and from Warren Buffet’s son, photographer and philanthropist Howard Buffet for ALAS.
Today, Shakira is embarking on the next phase of her life’s path to make a difference through her advocacy, her music, and her live performances that continue to move fans from around the world. They are drawn to her passion and honesty, her caring nature and the sheer force of a woman who, as a little girl, knew in her heart that she was destined to make a difference in this world, and set a course to do just that.