"I am the mongoose. Only the mongoose dares challenge the cobra. I like to feel I have mongoose qualities." "I am lucky that my breasts are small and humble, so you don't confuse them with mountains". With these and a volley of equally bizarre statements, Shakira came to worldwide attention in 2001 with her multi-million selling album Laundry Service and single, Whenever, Wherever. To some people she's probably just the belly dancing lady with the goat-like yodel but armed with an iron-will and a very strange English phrase book, the Colombian-born singer rose to become Latin pop's biggest female crossover artist since Jennifer Lopez.
Shakira Mebarak was born on February 2, 1977 in Barranquilla, Colombia into a poor family. Her mother was Colombian and she was the only child of her Lebanese father's second marriage. She has eight brothers by his first marriage. Shakira began entering talent competitions when she was 10-years-old. The slightly dippy megastar claims she had a musical epiphany when she heard Depeche Mode's Enjoy The Silence. "It was like a message from God," says Shak. "I knew I must make music that makes me feel like Depeche Mode." Mmm.
In 1990, at age 13, Shakira moved to Bogota, hoping to pursue a modelling career but ended up siging a record deal with Sony's Colombia division instead after an impromptu audition in front of a Sony executive in a hotel lobby. Shakira's rise wasn't quite meteoric though. Her first two albums, 1991's Magia (Magic) and 1993's Peligro flopped, causing our tousle-haired heroine to turn to acting as she joined the cast of Colombian soap opera El Oasis in 1994.
Undeterred, Shakira returned to recording in 1995 and she asserted more control over her music. She melded traditional latin rhythms to rock and roll with Arabic tinges, giving birth to her latin-pop formula on the hit single, Estoy Aqui. Subsequent album, 1996's Pies Descalzos (Bare Feet), made her a star in Latin America. Further Latin hit singles from the album followed, including Donde Estas Corazon and Un Poco De Amor. The album reached No.1 in eight different countries and eventually went platinum in the US. Shakira spent the next two years touirng and promoting the album around the world.
Shakira then signed Gloria Estefan's husband, Emilio as her manager and producer. The move paid off when her fourth album, 1998's Donde Estan Los Ladrones? (Where Are The Thieves) became a bigger hit than its predecessor. The album spent 11 weeks at No.1 in the US Billboard Latin album chart producing the hit singles Ceiga, Sordomuda and Tu. Shakira's belly-dancing imagery came to the fore with the album's signature track, Ojos Asi.
Hungry for more success, Shakira then declined an offer from Gloria Estefan to translate Ojos Asi into English and decided instead to learn the language so she could maintain control and interpret her own material. She ditched Emilio Estefan as her manager and called up Freddie DeMann, the former manager of both Michael Jackson and Madonna. After the release of 2000 album MTV Unplugged, Shakira set about preparing her first (largely) English language album, Laundry Service. As befitting a burgeoning Latin equivalent to Madonna, Shakira dyed her hair blonde and started a high-profile romance - with Antonio de la Rua, the son of the Argentine President. However, Shakira got caught up in the politics of the country when the crumbling Argentinian economy and impending national bankruptcy saw all of the singer's albums removed from the country's record shops.
Laundry Service was self-written and produced and the first single from it, Whenever, Wherever, was released in 2001. The song immediately made Shakira a star in the English-speaking world. The album reached the Top 5 in the UK and entered the US pop charts at No.3. Follow-up single Underneath Your Clothes, also hit the Top 10. The album's unique combination of rock, Latin melodrama, Middle-Eastern rhythms and Shakira's often baffling poetic imagery would see it go on to become a triple platinum seller.
The album's success led to our belly-dancing vamp embarking on a two year long tour, The Tour Of The Mongoose. A remix album of Laundry Service and a live set, 2004's Live & Off The Record briefly punctured her recording silence until, in 2005 she announced a project split into two volumes. The first album, the Spanish language Fijacion Oral Vol 1 was released in June 2005. It's partner album, the English-launguage Oral fixation 2, was released in November 2005.
In typically leftfield fashion, the album addresses issues ranging from the existence of God, (How Do You Do), international genocide, (Timor) and elsewhere, the burning question: The size of Shakira's 'humble breasts'. In many ways, it's a remarkable album, bold enough to make nods to '80s electro pop, breezy bossa nova, Latin rock and light balladry. Love her or be baffled by her, Shakira is, at least, a world away from the cheese-fest Ricky Martin-ization of Latin pop and that's got to be a good thing. ends
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