by Jay S. Jacobs
The Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Plaza in New York City is a world famous old restaurant right in the heart of downtown Manhattan’s entertainment district. A classic old club that was opened in 1934 in the heart of the Great Depression, designed to radiate class, glamour, elegance, luxury and the spirit of New York nightlife, The Rainbow Room has played host to celebrities, millionaires, politicians and kings in its almost seventy years in business. But this morning, it isn’t a nightclub. Instead it is set up for a press conference for arising music star.
It’s a pretty heady place to be for a new artist. But Shakira isn’t really a new artist. Although she just released her first English language album in late 2001, she has been a forcein Latin music circles since she was 13. Shakira Mebarak was born in Baranquilla, Colombia in 1977. By the time she hit 13, her family had moved her to the capitol city of Bogotà in hopes of Shakira becoming a model. Instead of posing in front of the camera, Shakira was offered a recording contract and released her debut album Magia (“Magic”) in 1991. It sold well in her homeland, but Shakira’s music didn’t cross over to the rest of the world until she had a hit with the rockish “Estoy Aqui” from her fourth album Pies Descalzos in 1995. By then Shakira was 18-years-old and had also landed a role in the Colombian soap opera El Oasis.
That fourth album was the album that exploded Shakira into international celebrity, ending up with six hit singles in Latin America, topping the charts in eight countries and eventually selling a million copies in the U.S.
This prominence has caused Shakira to be able to spend less and less time in her homeland, but she still feels a great love of her war-torn nation. “My hopes are like any other Colombian’s hopes,” Shakira says. “To have that beautiful country of mine in unity and in peace, and I think we are closer ever before to achieve what we’ve been dreaming about all these years. I think we’re ready for it. Forty years have been enough for us to learn our lessons. I think we are just ready for peace.”
In 1998, Shakira hooked up with Emilio Estefan, who had guided the career of his wife Gloria and her band Miami Sound Machine from Latin favorites to international superstars. Dónde Están Los Ladrones?, the first album with Emilio Estefan turned out to be an even bigger hit than its predecessor in 1998. Gloria Estefan offered to translate the smash single “Ojos Asi” into English for Shakira. Her international reputation was growing, spurred on even further by an appearance on MTV Unplugged (which was the first totally Spanish language programming on the cable network) and a series of ads for Pepsi.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have a family around me all these years, people who love me for what I am,” Shakira says. “People who know where I come from, where I’m going to, what my goals are. They have definitely been a very positive influence in my life, to assimilate the subtleties and nuances of fame, and popularity and all that… When I think that I started this career so early, my case is not the case of an artist who becomes popular overnight and then has to deal with thousands of photographers screaming my name. Or the task of talking to reporters everyday or signing autographs or that kind of stuff. To me, it was not traumatic at all. I digested all the complications of popularity in a very easy and smooth way. Because it was gradual, you know?”
The door was opening for Shakira to gain international stardom. She was ready for her first English language album. Of course, there was a basic problem. She didn’t speak the language. But with the determination that had fueled her whole career, she learned how to speak and write in English. In late 2001, the fruits of her labor were released with Laundry Service.
“Before assuming this big challenge of writing for the first time in English and making my first English album and presenting it to the world… of course I was feeling ready for it, a little bit scared… actually a lot scared,” Shakira admits. “But I knew I could do it and my instincts always told me to go ahead and jump in the water. The results that Laundry Service has brought to my life and my career have been more than I expected. I mean, almost ten million copies around the world is more than I ever could dream about.”
Laundry Service was a smash hit right out of the box. The first single “Wherever Whenever” was a giddy mix of pop music with distinctive Latin instruments like the Charanga and Quena Flute making it stand out from the rest of cookie-cutter tunes on the top of the pops. The follow-up single was another smash, “Underneath Your Clothes,” a deceptively simple ballad, and a rather eloquent one at that, considering it was written by someone who had just learned English as a second language in the last couple of years. A third single called “Objection (Tango)” has been released as well, a mesmerizing mish-mash of accordions and power-chord guitars.
Not only has her music been a huge sensation in the United States, but her look of skin-tight thrift-shop hip-huggers, old belly shirts and funky hats have set off a style revolution that has spread to girls around the world. But any effect she’s had on the fashion world has slipped right past Shakira. “Really? I didn’t know that,” she laughs. “I’m not the type of girl who loves shopping. I actually hate it. I have no patience for shopping. I don’t think in terms of fashion, really. It’s actually the last thing I think about, when it comes to making a video or a photo session or that kind of stuff.”
But whether Shakira realizes it or not, she has created a musical phenomenon. Which brings us here, to the Rainbow Room. Shakira looks comfortable facing down a room full of writers and photographers. They were summoned with a cryptic notice from her record label that Shakira had a big announcement to make. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure that she was probably announcing a world tour, and a stage setting with a logo reading “Tour de la Mongosta” (Tour of the Mongoose) took care of any suspense the visitors may have been feeling. What was more of a surprise is that after over a decade as a performer, this is the first world tour Shakira has embarked upon.
“By the way, the mongoose couldn’t come. (He) couldn’t make it today because he’s getting ready for the tour. But I’m here and in his representation…” Shakira says, smiling.
Which brings up a pretty basic question. What exactly is a mongoose?
“I knew you were going to ask me that,” Shakira laughs. “It’s an animal (that) looks like a rat. The first time I ever heard about a mongoose, I was really impressed by it, because it is an animal that can defeat the snake with just a bite. The mongoose awoke my curiosity and so many symbols in my head. I think of it like a personification of a utopia or something. It’s like a little miracle, this animal, to me. Because if there is an animal on Earth that can defeat the snake… the venomous viper, with (just) a bite, I think there has got to be a way for us to defeat hatred in this world. So that’s basically the symbolism that arose in my mind as soon as I knew about this creature. That’s why I made it the name of the tour. Because I usually name my albums and my tours according to the emotional moment that I’m going through. I guess I’m in an existentialist mode right now. That’s why I’m sounding like an old-fashioned hippie.”
The Tour of the Mongoose will last throughout 2002 and 2003, during which Shakira’s band will play in 30 countries and 50 cities.
“(The tour)’s going to be amazing,” Shakira says excitedly. “It’s going to be a super production. I have the best team of lighting and sound and video in the industry. I feel pretty confident about my band. They’re sounding amazing. I’m really impressed by the way they’re sounding. I’m not sparing any effort to make sure that this concert will be the best I can offer to my fans and it’s going have love, a strong spirit of rock and roll… so you will see a rock and roll show… but it’ll have… nuances and the subtleties. My main goal is to be able to not only entertain (fans), but make sure they leave the venues fulfilled and happy and make sure they have had an unforgettable night. I’ll do everything possible to make sure that happens.”
|#1 ©2002 Jay S. Jacobs
#2 ©2002 Jay S. Jacobs
|#3 ©2002 Deborah Wagner|
|#4 ©2001 Firooz Zahedi – courtesy of Epic Records|
Copyright ©2002 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 6, 2002.