Shakira: Woman Child in the Promised Land
By VH1 News
Shes hot, shes talented, and shes one of the few people ever to use the word laundry in an album title. But whats it really like being Shakira? As VH1's Being prepared to take a unique look at the Colombian crossover queen, Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll sat down to talk fame, family, and the process of learning English. As the chat demonstrates, theres much more to this young songwriter than meets the eye.
VH1: So whats it really like being Shakira?
Shakira: Sometimes I feel that Shakira is an old woman trapped in the body of a 24-year-old girl. Sometimes I feel that theres a baby inside me that hasnt grown up yet. So Shakira can be a very confusing character!
VH1: Why do you think youre like an old woman inside a young womans body?
Shakira: Sometimes I feel full of theories. I dont necessarily go through the experience of something, because Ive already decided what the results are going to be. I dont go out too much at night. I dont visit too many clubs. I like to go out sometimes and just observe how people behave. When I was 15 years old I preferred dancing to watching. Now Im on the other side.
VH1: So where do you get inspiration for your songs? By watching people?
Shakira: Ive always been curious about the way humans react and live and behave. Thats why I like to observe others. It inspires me and [fuels] my songs. Imagination also plays an important role. All writers have a little bit of a liar or exaggerator in them. All women exaggerate, and Im no exception. So when I write, I exaggerate a bit.
VH1: What is it that drives you to be a songwriter?
Shakira: I always felt a calling. Like there was some invisible hand behind me pushing me to write, dance, do things. When I was a child, I had the illusion of becoming a scientist, a writer, and a dancer. All three things combined! I remember doing my first poems at the age of four on everything that would surround me. I wrote one to my mom. It was called The Rose of Crystal. It was full of fantasy and daydreams. But I didnt feel clearly that I wanted to be a musician. I started writing my first songs when I was 8 years old. I think my career as a songwriter started my career as a singer.
VH1: How would you describe your music?
Shakira: To me its pretty difficult to categorize. Its just a reflection of what I am - and I am a cocktail! Im an infusion of different cultures. I was born in Barranquilla, Columbia, and grew up listening to all kinds of typical music from my country. But I also had a great passion for Arabic music, because of my Lebanese background. During puberty I discovered the world of rock n roll, and just gave myself up to it. I became a big fan of bands like the Beatles, the Police, the Cure. I guess my music is a reflection of all that.
VH1: What is it like for you to be a rock star?
Shakira: Sometimes I feel like I am a rock artist trapped in the body of a pop artist! I still need the approval of others. I still need to look pretty in my videos. Thats not exactly what represents a rock artist. But I feel rock n roll in my veins. I breathe it and I listen to that music the whole time.
VH1: Was there a moment when you first realized, Oh my God, Im famous!?
Shakira: My encounter with fame has been very gradual, so it hasnt been traumatic for me to become a popular artist. But I still get surprised when I see myself on something like Saturday Night Live. Im like, Is that me there? On American TV? Sometimes it doesnt make sense. Its like a dream almost.
VH1: How is becoming a star in the United States different from the acceptance you received in Latin America?
Shakira: Theres not that much of a difference between Americans or Latinos now. I know that throughout history weve been trying to find differences. Like Latinos can move their hips and Americans eat Honey Mustard sauce. But in the end we all go through the same pains. Same suffering or same joys. Were just flesh and bone.
VH1: Is there a difference between being an artist on your own terms and being a crossover success?
Shakira: Journalists ask me every time, Shakira, how does it feel to be doing a crossover to America? Its a big thing. But I think its very natural. I hope at some point I am just considered an artist and not an alien. At the end of the day that is the purpose of art or music, to make us forget about differences in race and culture, and build new bridges.
VH1: Why was it so important for you to learn English?
Shakira: To me it was very important to understand the nature of the language and how it works in literature. I wanted to know how the English grammar works. Not only the conversational English that we use every day to order a pizza or call room service, but the English thats related to what is actually on the paper. I had to read Walt Whitmans Leaves of Grass in English just to understand the language a little more. It was too important to me to write my own material like I always did. I didnt want to sacrifice anything that was part of my life before as an artist in order to do the crossover thing. [Watch Clip]
VH1: Would the meaning of your songs be lost if you wrote them and then had them translated into English?
Shakira: The first time we spoke about doing an album in English Gloria Estefan helped me with some translations of songs that already existed. She rescued the spirit of the songs in Spanish and translated them into English. But when I decided I wanted to do a record from zero, it was because I had the need and the urgency to express ideas, feelings, thoughts. I had to express all those experiences that I was going through in another language. It was quite a challenge and a little scary, but then it became an adventure, an interesting expedition to the unknown. At the end of the day I found a good record that I felt proud of.
VH1: Whats it like when you walk on stage?
Shakira: The stage never felt strange to me. It always seemed like my territory. Like the lion in the jungle. Im the little lion of that wooden stage. I feel that I am the owner of that little stage for the minutes that Im allowed to be on it. It always feels like its the first time, at least to me it does.
VH1: What about the audience?
Shakira: The audience that is in front of you is looking for something from you, so I wonder, What do they need from me? I try to give the best that is inside me, to share it with them. Just imagining all of those kids going home with smiles on their faces makes me happy. But there is a big responsibility with it.
VH1: Whats the best part of the job and whats the worst part?
Shakira: Theres something really beautiful about entertaining. Somebody who works in an office from eight in the morning till nine oclock every day can turn on the TV and find somebody singing a nice song that can touch his heart and bring some warmth to it. Theres something nice about it. The worst thing is that you fall in love too much with this. And its dangerous because its temporary. Theres a sunset and we all have to be prepared for it. Someday Ill be wrinkled, full of cellulite and probably not that creative. I dont know when is gonna be the last day I write a good song. But that day is gonna come. Ive known many artists that Ive admired for a long time who suddenly come up with something that is just like What is this? This is not the genius he used to be. Thats pretty scary, huh? [Watch Clip]
VH1: How do you keep yourself in check?
Shakira: I try to build my own boundaries. My boundaries are my family. They contain me. They are my ground. Thats why its so important for me to take them on the road and travel with them. They always remind me how vulnerable and clumsy I am, and how many mistakes I can make, because thats what they love to do. Parents always like to remind you about the important things in life. Theyre always trying too hard to make a good person out of you.