Born in Barranquilla, Colombia, Shakira’s first steps in her creative life were developed at a very early age. As a child, she would write short notes to her father, who encouraged her to keep logging her thoughts and emotions and was unintentionally fostering her ability to write song lyrics. But writing wasn’t her only developing skill. By the time she was seven, Shakira displayed an impressive dancing ability when she joined a group of belly dancers at a Middle Eastern restaurant. She showed she could emulate their moves, much to the delight of everyone in the restaurant and she continued delivering impromptu performances for anyone who would stop long enough to watch her. It’s a talent she has clearly continued to put to good use throughout her career though it hardly begins to describe her fluid, sexy dancing ability and the impact it has had on pop culture.
She also began singing and, from the start, displayed a unique voice that stood out among her peers. Because of her already developed strong vibrato, she could only sing the solos in school because her voice overpowered her class mates. Some of her school pals would laugh at her singing and called her sound “animal-like.” But Shakira was undeterred by the criticism. Early on she decided to embrace her individuality and cultivate her unique voice and dance moves.
In a twist that seems like something out of a made-for-TV movie, a local theater producer whom Shakira had befriended met a Sony Music executive on a flight and convinced him to audition Shakira in a motel lobby. He liked what he heard, but his Sony colleagues in Bogotá felt her voice was too unusual. In a sneaky, yet clever move, the label executive arranged an in-person audition for Shakira, but told his record company staffers they were seeing someone else since they had only heard Shakira and never met her. Her talent won over any doubters and the label signed her to a three-album deal. But she was hardly an overnight sensation. Her first album, “Magia,” recorded when she was only 14 in 1991, failed to find an audience. She returned to the studio to record “Peligro”, which came out in 1993 and although the album began to build an audience for her, she felt distant from the songs, feeling the project was more a reflection of her producer’s taste than her own.
Although she was barely known outside of Colombia, Shakira was invited to appear at Chile’s Viña del Mar International Song Festival in February 1993. The Festival featured aspiring Latin American singers performing in front of a huge audience and such well-known judges as soon-to-be fellow Latin superstar Ricky Martin. Shakira’s emotional performance of powerful ballad “Eres” (You Are) landed her in third place and began to build her profile outside of Colombia. After taking time to finish high school, Shakira returned to the studio to make her third album, which reflected her various eclectic influences. The 1995 “Pies Descalzos” album brought her great popularity in Latin America bolstered by the hit singles “Estoy Aquí,” “Pies Descalzos, Sueños Blancos” and “Dónde Estás Corazón.” The album sold more than 4 million copies and prompted the release of a remix album, which sold another 500,000 copies.
Shakira then turned to renowned producer Emilio Estefan, also known as Gloria Estefan’s husband, to executive produce her fourth album, 1998’s “¿Dónde Están Los Ladrones?.” The album drew the attention of not only her loyal and ever-expanding Latin American audience, but Shakira gained fans in non-Spanish-speaking countries like France, Switzerland, Canada and especially the United States. An impressive eight of the album’s 11 tracks were singles, including “Ciega, Sordomuda,” “Moscas En La Casa,” “No Creo,” “Inevitable,” “Tú,” “Si Te Vas,” “Octavo Día” and fan favorite “Ojos Así.” To solidify further Shakira’s growing popularity in America, she performed on MTV’s first Spanish-language edition of “MTV Unplugged.” The subsequent album release of the concert program earned Shakira her first Grammy Award. She was later named favorite international artist at the August 2000 MTV Video Music Awards. At the inaugural Latin Grammy Awards ceremony that same year, Shakira delivered a much-discussed, show-stopping performance of “Ojos Así” and took home Unplugged-related trophies for Best Female Pop Vocal (“Ojos Así”) and Best Female Rock Vocal (“Octavo Dia”).
After laying down tremendous groundwork in the English-speaking market and being welcomed with open arms, Shakira knew now was the time to reach out to a broader audience. She and Gloria Estefan created English versions of many of the tunes from “Dónde,” but Shakira decided instead to learn English and write the new album herself. As always, eager to continue to explore her roots, she included new Spanish songs. “Laundry Service” contained the mega-smashes “Whenever, Wherever” and ballad “Underneath Your Clothes.” By airing her musical “Laundry” before her adoring public, Shakira went from a Latin American superstar to a global superstar loved by people all over the world. The 2001 album went on to sell more than 13 million albums.
Not surprisingly, by 2002 Shakira had plenty of material for a Spanish greatest hits set. The year was also memorable for her continued mutual admiration society with MTV. She won another MTV Award, as well as five MTV Latin America Video Music Awards. She followed the greatest hits with 2004’s “Live and Off the Record,” a DVD of her Tour of the Mongoose. But even greater things lay ahead as Shakira continued to challenge herself artistically.
In an innovative move, Shakira decided to issue a new project, two albums—one in Spanish and one in English—a few months apart. She wrote 60 songs and then divvied them up for the two projects. Her instincts, once again, proved right on target. “Fijación Oral Vol. 1” came out in June 2005 and landed at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 in the U.S., making it the highest debut ever for a Spanish language album in the SoundScan era. It topped the Billboard Latin Album chart upon release, as well as charts in nine other countries. Lead single, “La Tortura,” which featured Spanish superstar Alejandro Sanz, shot to #1 on the Hot Latin Tracks Billboard chart where it stayed for a staggering, record-setting 25 weeks. The video for “La Tortura” was the first Spanish-language video added into regular rotation at MTV and VH1.
The album was also an instant sensation closer to home, selling out across South America. It was certified platinum based on first-day sales in Venezuela and triple platinum in her native Colombia. Three days after its release, it had already sold a remarkable one million copies. It has since gone onto sell close to four million units.
The English version, “Oral Fixation Vol. 2,” came out in November 2005. Like its predecessor, it set a few records of its own. The single “Hips Don’t Lie,” featuring Wyclef Jean, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became the most played song in the history of pop radio as her fans could not get enough of the sexy tune. The trip to the top made Shakira the only Colombian artist to land at No. 1.
In another sign of Shakira’s now- realized status as both a Spanish and Anglo superstar, “Hips Don’t Lie” landed at #1 on Billboard’s Top 40 Mainstream chart and No. #1 on the Latin song chart in the same week, marking the first time a song hit the top of both charts simultaneously.
The song was also a digital phenomenon, selling a record-breaking 266,500 downloads in its first week. It hit the million downloads mark faster than any other tune and, to date, has been downloaded more than 1.5 million times. “Hips Don’t Lie” also proved to be an extremely popular ringtone worldwide.
“Fijacion Oral Vol. 1” proved as popular with critics as with fans: in February 2006, Shakira won the Grammy for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album. The album also captured a slew of Latin Grammys, including album of the year. In April 2006, Shakira also received six Billboard Latin Music Awards for the album. Last year, she was additionally honored with the Spirit of Hope Award for her 12-year-old Fundación Pies Descalzos (Bare Feet Foundation), which aids child victims of violence in Colombia by providing education, emotional, nutritional, psychological and medical support.
The English version also captured its share of accolades. “Hips Don’t Lie” snared a Grammy nomination for best pop collaboration with vocals in 2007. She was the most nominated artist for the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards, taking home the statue for best choreography. “Oral Fixation” has sold more than 8 million copies.
With both the English and Spanish versions whetting her fans’ appetites around the world for the real thing, the Colombian star took to the road on her biggest world tour yet in June 2006. The 140-date outing touched fans in North America, Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America and sold out 98% of the shows, including concerts at New York’s prestigious Madison Square Garden, Miami’s American Airlines Arena and Los Angeles’ Staples Center. Shakira once again made history when she performed in front of more than 200,000 fans at Mexico City’s Plaza del Zocalo, the largest crowd in Mexican history. She also played in front of the pyramids in Egypt and for the first time in Dubai.
Shakira proved equally popular with her fellow superstars as with her fans. She became the go-to girl they sought out to sing with. Shakira duetted with Alejandro Sanz on “Te lo Agradezco, Pero No.” In 2007, she teamed with Beyonce for their international hit “Beautiful Liar” from the deluxe edition of Beyonce’s “B’Day” album. In addition to topping the chart in 12 territories, the song set the record for the largest jump ever on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. by soaring 91 positions from No. 94 to No. 3 in one week. It also debuted at No. 1 on both the Hot Digital Tracks and Hot Digital Songs charts. Shakira also appeared on Miguel Bose’s “Si Tu No Vuelves,” from his career-spanning collection “Papito.”
Never known to sit still or rest on her laurels, Shakira is now trying her hand at writing music for films. She has co-written and recorded two songs for November’s “Love in the Time of Cholera,” the movie version of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s international bestseller starring Javier Bardem. She also plans to continue her education by studying both history and art. In addition to Fundación Pies Descalzos, she launched a new charity, ALAS (Latin America in Solidary Action) . The foundation, funded by private donations and non-governmental organizations, endeavors to contribute to building a prosperous Latin America that can provide health care for its children. Shakira and many of her fellow artists, including Juanes, Sanz, Bose, Ricky Martin, Maná and others, also committed to performing regular benefits to raise funds for ALAS.
Regardless of which direction her interests take her, Shakira will always return to music and to her fans but her place in music history is already secure. According to the United World Chart, with three years to go, she is already the fourth most successful artist of the 2000s. From the Grammys, the Latin Grammys and the MTV Video Music Awards to her role as an ambassador for the UNICEF to her foundations Pies Descalzos and ALAS, Shakira’s contributions have been ambitious and yet, at the same time, she makes them, somehow, appear effortless. Just like you’d expect from someone full of grace.