Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll was born in the coastal town of Barranquilla, Colombia to a Lebanese father and devout Catholic mother. The youngest of 9 half brothers and sisters from her father's first marriage, Shakira early on showed incredible talent as a writer and performer. At four years old, she surprised her family by belly dancing at an Arabian restaurant without any training or lessons. It was clear that performing was in her soul. When her family was shattered by the sudden death of older brother, Shakira observed her father's tears behind his dark glasses and wrote her first song "Tu Gafas Oscuras" (Your Dark Glasses).
Through the support and encouragement of her family, Shakira performed at local dance and talent competitions in Barranquilla, becoming a local celebrity. Through this she caught the eye of local theater producer Monica Ariza, who knew that she was looking at the makings of a superstar. This meeting would prove to be the break Shakira needed to showcase her incredible talent. Through Monica, Shakira got the audition of a lifetime with Sony Colombia executive Ciro Vargas. Shakira blew him away and Ciro returned to the Sony offices excited with his new discovery. Unfortunately the executives were less than thrilled and told him Shakira was awful.
Refusing to take no for an answer, Ciro Vargas and Shakira tricked the Sony Colombia executives into attending a surprise live performance, where she showcased her signature belly dancing and powerful voice. The executives were thrilled with talented young girl, and at 13 Shakira signed a 3 album contract.
Shakira soon released her 1st LP Magia (Magic). This album was a success locally, but lacked the broad exposure she was hoping for, despite a music video for the title track and significant radio airtime. For Shakira's second album, Sony took the reins, and she lost creative control and what resulted was album following the producer's vision rather than Shakira's. Peligro (danger) resulted in dismal sales due to the poor production quality, and soon disappeared within the market. At 15, Shakira's recording career it seemed was ending as quickly as it started, when Sony decided not to move forward with a 3rd album.
Shakira's career was on the verge of collapse, but she was determined to make music that had her personal stamp of expression and she landed a spot on "Vina Del Mar" in Chile, which was one of the most popular singing contests in Latin America. She brought home 2nd place, and the exposure revitalized her career. Shakira decided that if she was going to make it big, she would have to move to Colombia's capital of Bogota.
Shakira and her mother packed their bags to chase her dream, and soon after her arrival, Shakira landed the lead role in Colombian soap opera "El Oasis". Although acting was not her true passion, she knew that the exposure would help her gain the credibility she needed to pursue her music. Throughout her small screen stint, she kept writing, and soon re-approached Sony about her unfinished contract. Sony recognized that since Shakira was building a name for herself, and they agreed to give her one last chance.
Shakira was featured on a Colombian rock compilation with her song "Donde Estas Corazon". Soon after, the song exploded on the charts, and propelled Shakira into the Latin American market like she never had been before. Thrilled with the success, Sony Colombia agreed to record a 3rd album. The result was Pies Descalzos (Bare Feet). This was to be her breakthrough album, marked with Shakira's powerful voice, and poignant lyrics. This album soon was number one off the single "Estoy Aqui" (I Am Here).
While promoting Pies Descalzos, Shakira returned to Barranquilla for a huge homecoming concert, the first one since becoming a star. Tragedy struck that night when the venue failed to control the 50,000 fans rushing in to see their star. Two people ended up being trampled to death, and this deeply affected Shakira. Due to her deep religious faith, she took this incident as a sign that perhaps she should quit singing. The support of her friend and family surrounding her, made her realize that this wasn't her fault, and she should keep going on with her career.
Shakira forged on and soon caught the eye of legendary producer Emilio Estefan. Emilio had sculpted the careers of many Latin performers, including his wife Gloria. He instantly saw in Shakira her unique style and potential to be a crossover superstar. He took her under his wing, and together they produced Shakira's 4th album, Donde Estan Los Ladrones (Where are the Thieves). This album didn't come without hurdles. In pre-production, a briefcase containing all her new lyrics were stolen at an airport, but true to form Shakira used the theft as inspiration and came back with a powerful new set of lyrics. Donde Estan Los Ladrones broke through both the US and Hispanic market spending 11 weeks at number one on Billboard's Latin Album Chart.
Shakira's desire to communicate with as many people possible drove her to make a serious pitch for the American market. She started diligently learning English in order to prepare herself for the ultimate Spanish to English crossover: An album written in English.
When the first single "Whenever, Wherever" was released in November 2001, it's a huge hit, with a hot video. The album Laundry Service is released shortly thereafter, and it ended up selling 3.5 million copies in the US. After that, no one could deny that Shakira had conquered the US market.
Four years later, Shakira has shown no sign of slowing down. With the success of Fijacion Oral v.1, soon to be followed by its English counterpart Oral Fixation v.2, Shakira has shown that she is a forced to be reckoned with, and there is no stopping her.
Interview Highlights include:
William Mebarak, Father: "When she was nine, she started writing songs, with lyrics and music. One day she said, "Daddy, I want you to listen to this song" "Tus gafas oscuras". From the moment I lost my elder child, I hid my grief behind the dark glasses, so I realized she was making a connection with the glasses I wore."
Kathy Kopp, Friend: "Her belly dance show was amazing. Because she was so good, and she was so tiny. And she was so cute."
Emilio Estefan: "Everybody start talking about Shakira, that put her in a different level all over the Latin world."
Luis Fernando Ochoa, Producer: "Shakira was aiming, at that point in her career, to step out of the mold, and be able to have creative input."
Tommy Mottola: "There was something very compelling, and very inspiring about listening to her music even at that young age."
Tonino Mebarak, brother: "She thought that it was her fault those people had died because they went to see her sing. She thought about abandoning her career, she didn't want to go on singing."