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Shakira: Crossover Bound!

For a Latina singer facing crossover, the timing is perfect. The Hispanic culture is hip, its population on the rise and a wave of new, young performers is taking over. "We're known all over the world through rhythms like merengue, cumbia, vallenato, ranchera, tango...No one doubts that we can make people dance, but no one credits us for being good rockers. Well, I think we're ready to show the world that we can master that, too," Shakira says.

Just don't get her wrong. We're not talking about the typical rocker. "I'm full of contradictions, a rock and roll singer who travels with her parents." And at 21, she refuses to paint her nails and wear heels. "Don't think I'm a total rebel, I just try to do things my way and to stay away from clichés."

Born Shakira Mebarak Ripoll in Barranquilla, Colombia, her multi-million selling album, Pies Descalzos, launched an international career that continues to rise. Daughter of a Colombian mother and a Lebanese father, her fondness for music was apparent early on; she was winning local and national talent contests at age 10. Besides her unique style and voice, it's her ability to write lyrics that come from the heart that sets her apart. Now that she's preparing her first album in English, will she be able to convey her feelings in a language other than her native tongue? "Well, I'll be writing most of the music, probably all of it. It's hard for me to delegate in this respect. As far as the lyrics, there'll be some translations done by Gloria (Estefan) of songs that I have written in Spanish and some new ones that we're writing together. I think it will be a bit more difficult because I won't have as many poetic resources in English, but the ideas are there, they have no boundaries."

Truly and Unusually Talented!

Critics everywhere have hailed Shakira’s thought-provoking songs; it is unusual for someone so young to be so deep. Where does it come from? “Anything and everything...personal experiences, fears, wishes. There’s a close connection between them and my personal life, my everyday routine. They’re a sort of escape valve, emergency exit. I’d rather write than visit a psychiatrist and it’s the best defense mechanism I know and a way to know myself through introspection.”

Complicated, controversial? Not really. “Don’t misunderstand, I don’t lead a tormented existence. And I would be lying if I told you that you must be under stress or suffering immensely in order to write a song. But we must be able to collect emotions and put them into words, anybody’s emotions. After all, we’re all one flesh, one blood. We all have experienced what others also have felt: love, hate, passion. These are the ingredients.” According to Shakira, everybody has angels and demons, whether we keep them under control, “in part is pure luck...but it’s also up to us to be able to do it.”

One of a Kind!

After the hit-laden smash album, Pies Descalzos, which sold close to four million copies worldwide, Shakira declined her record label's suggestion to explore more commercial venues and insisted on recording her very own brand of music. Donde están los ladrones is a collection of songs that explores the realms of rock and roll without giving up the singer’s authenticity. “Its totally refreshing for me to work with an artist who knows exactly what she wants, both at a musical and personal level,” said Emilio Estefan, who produces her albums and, through Estefan Enterprises, manages her career.

It’s been said that Shakira is also responsible for creating her own image. The braided hair, the red hair, the black hair. “I try to follow my own path, although I’m also aware that no one can be completely original, because there’s nothing totally new. Everything has been said before.” A perfectionist? That may be closer to reality. “When I’m recording, I never feel totally secure. I bring an idea, I develop it, but during the process I’m constantly questioning myself: why this, why that? I’m not satisfied until I feel that there’s a perfect connection between me and my music. We must be in unison, texture, quality, sound, taste, warmth, shape. A total embrace.”

New Challenge!

No one should wonder why Shakira has been chosen from among dozens of Latin singers—male and female—to appear on the cover of Newsweek as the symbol of the new generation of Hispanics set to change America in the new century. Besides having been nominated for a Grammy Award, she was named Female Artist of the Year at the World Music Awards in Monaco and was a winner last spring at Univision’s Premios Lo Nuestro and the Billboard Awards. That’s not all. Critics hail her for being the most exciting cantautora from Latin America in years. Yet, she’s willing to go for the golden ring, and try to cross over into the cutthroat world of rock and roll. Why? “I know it’s a professional challenge, but it’s also a personal one. I think I owe it to myself. It’s a personal commitment . But I won’t deny it, I’m also scared.”

That we experience fear when we face something new, is normal. “But I’m also excited about this idea and happy to do it. I feel that I owe it to my people, los colombianos—and all Latinos in general. There are many reasons, the music, our image, our community. I want to show that we’re ready, that we’re intelligent people with a great sense of humor despite our problems. As far as Colombians are concerned, I think we can use some good news.”

Even though Shakira is contemplating moving permanently to South Florida, there’s no question where her heart is. “I’m always thinking about my Colombian people, when I’m on stage, when I receive an award. I think about them because they’re one of my greatest motivations.”

Love? Yes, but not now!

For a beautiful young woman, life without love seems impossible to visualize. Yet, she emphasizes that there’s no one. “I’m sure there’s someone there for me, waiting. And the moment will arrive. But I’m praying so it won’t be right now. I don’t want to lose my concentration with too many things dancing in my head, and men tend to steal our attention and ideas. Like flies after the honey... Then all my thoughts tend to concentrate on that person and right now, I can’t afford it.”

Where does this young woman gets all her strength? “I’m a believer. I try to be near God, because when I feel that there’s a certain distance, everything begins to look like a blur. It makes the road somewhat smoother. When I feel that I’m without God, I have to make an effort to drag my feet to keep on going...” ¿Los famosos pies descalzos? “Esos mismos.”

Carmen Teresa Roiz is VISTA’s associate editor.

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