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Cover Story: Shakira

Latin America's biggest star is ready for you to fall in love with her. Resistance is futile

Evan WrightPosted Apr 11, 2002 12:00 AM

Shakira was about twelve, living in her hometown — an industrial, backwater port city in Colombia called Barranquilla — when she started to feel strange sensations inside her body. The feeling was somewhere in her "gut," and she experienced it every time she heard the guitar solo in Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence." She told her mother, "Mom, I feel something so overwhelming every time I listen to that guitar solo." Shakira's mother didn't know what to say. The girl began listening to the song over and over just so she could be touched again in that special way by that mysterious guitar. "I still feel it," Shakira says, rolling her eyes back and humming the riff. "That's how I discovered there was something in the electric guitar that was really powerful."

A year later, when she was thirteen, she signed her first record deal, with Sony. Five years later, she was Colombia's most popular rockera — rocker girl. Now twenty-five, with a Grammy for Best Latin Pop Album in 2000 and sales of 12 million albums under her belt, Shakira is the biggest rock star in Latin America, a mystically revered performer who has been blessed by the pope and even earned the admiration of intellectuals such as Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garc?a M?rquez, Colombia's greatest living writer. "No one of any age can sing or dance with the innocent sensuality Shakira seems to have invented," he wrote in a glowing profile of Shakira published in 1999 in a Colombian magazine.

Now she has set out to conquer America. Or, as she says, "I come to seduce, which is different." Her first English-language album, Laundry Service, which she wrote and recorded almost entirely in English, has already sold 2 million copies in the U.S., mostly on the strength of its first single, "Whenever, Wherever," a relentlessly catchy Latin dance-rock thumper.

It is a late mid-February afternoon, and Shakira is standing in a penthouse suite at the Marriott Mexico City. She doesn't look much larger than a stick of dynamite. She is maybe five feet two, in massive black boots and is wearing jeans, chains around her waist and a red T-shirt with an ugly yellow heart emblazoned on the front. Defiantly unkempt blond hair tumbles to her elbows.

In a thirty-six-hour period — the entire length of her stay in Mexico — Shakira is scheduled to give thirty interviews and two TV performances. She is now halfway through this breakneck media assault. She has been up since dawn, on the road since October, and she's been having days like this for the past decade. Hulking bald guys from her road crew tramp through the luxury suite carrying her guitars, the little sunglasses she wears when she sings her Spanish rocker "Te Dejo Madrid" and the chain-mail belt she slips around her waist when she belly-dances during the break in "Whenever, Wherever." There are faxes from video directors in L.A. that require her immediate attention. The air pulses as a helicopter approaches for a rooftop landing to spirit her away to a nearby TV studio.

Shakira observes every detail, makes every decision herself, yet she remains absolutely calm and, given a few seconds of freedom, easily slips into carefree chitchat. Her manner is easygoing but reserved — intimate but almost surgically impersonal. "Have you met a person from Colombia before?" she asks. "Colombia is not how people think it is. We used to eat fish every Sunday at the beach. In the town where I grew up, people did not tell lies."


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