Businesswoman Shakira mesmerises with new album

Shakira attends the Grand Journal TV show. (SUPPLIED)

In Shakira's hometown of Barranquilla, Colombia, there's a 15-foot metal statue of her, wearing bell bottoms and strumming a guitar. It was donated by a German sculptor in 2006, in the midst of the singer's wildly successful Oral Fixation world tour, which featured her jaw-dropping belly-dancing and a finale of Hips Don't Lie with Wyclef Jean.

Shakira occasionally strummed a glittery guitar during the show, but by the time the statue was put up, she was far from the acoustic pop-rocker she'd been on her 1996 breakthrough album, Pies Descalzos – as the highest-selling Colombian artist of all time, she has sold over 50 million albums worldwide, according to her label.

So if the statue already was playing catch-up with her image in 2006, it barely captures her now. Shakira's third English album, She Wolf, reveals what may be her most club-oriented music to date: electronic pop with strong basslines and prominent world  music textures, combined with a dose of in-your-face sex appeal.

“I felt very curious and intrigued about the electro-pop world and everything it has to offer,” Shakira said by phone from her home in the Bahamas. “I wanted to make sure that this album was very bassy and that the kicks hit really hard, and I wanted to concentrate on the beat. But my music, to a certain extent, is very complex – because I always try to experiment with sounds from other parts of the world.”

Shakira produced and wrote the album, teaming with Pharrell Williams on production; other collaborators include Jean; John Hill, who's worked with Santigold; the Bravery's Sam Endicott; and Academy Award winner Jorge Drexler. Keyboardist Albert Menendez also co-wrote a song.

It's one thing to cross over into the non-Latin market, as Shakira did nearly a decade ago. But it's quite another to maintain that crossover, particularly to the degree that Shakira has. She'll follow up her simultaneous worldwide release with a tour promoted by concert promoter Live Nation, with whom she has a multirights deal (although Epic is releasing the album) that is intended to build her business as a whole. That deal, signed last year, is estimated to be worth between $70m and $100m over ten years.

“For an artist in this day and age, and for an artist who is still early in their career, the challenge is: How do you conquer the world in a new way?” her manager Ceci Kurzman asks. “How do you make sure that, now that the barriers have been dropped because of electronic media, how do you make sure that more people than ever can hear your music? There was a time you measured your success by the number of albums sold. And now you have such a broader scope.”

Shakira's march to mainstream pop diva-dom began with Laundry Service, her 2001 English-language album, which has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. La Tortura, the first single from her 2005 album Fijacion Oral, Vol 1, became the first Spanish-language video to air on MTV without an English-language version. She cemented her crossover with Hips Don't Lie, a belated addition to her English-language Oral Fixation, Vol 2 album that went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and in at least 10 other countries tracked by Nielsen Music Control.

“What tends to happen with Latin stars is that they tend to have one big English-language record or two and then they revert back to making Spanish records,” says Rob Stringer, chairman of Columbia/Epic Label Group. “She does a very good job of managing to synergise those two careers. Shakira is competing against iconic female artists and completely standing on her own, but she also has a career in Spanish as well, so she's completely unique in that respect.”

In both the Latin and the mainstream worlds, Shakira is been known for clever lyrics and inventive musical fusions – from tango to bossa nova to Andean flutes to reggaeton. As she did on Ojos Asi, a Middle Eastern romp with electric guitars from her 1998 album Donde Estan Los Ladrones?, Shakira looks east once again on She Wolf.

“It's an electronic album generally speaking, but it does have different organic instruments that, combined with the synthesizers, create a different sort of ambience,” says the two-time Grammy and seven-time Latin Grammy Award winner. “You've got to put together a nice meal and make sure the spices don't take over the main ingredient. And at the end of the day, it gives a nice flavour in your mouth.”

And even with vampires and werewolves being all the rage these days, Shakira says she hadn't heard of Twilight until she showed She Wolf to Epic president Amanda Ghost -- who in turn made her watch the box-office smash. “I loved it, but I also found that it was, coincidentally, very appropriate,” the Harry Potter fan says. “I think people are craving fantasy.”

That ability to enchant listeners while keeping a strong eye on the business framework beneath it all is something the region’s home-grown talents could well learn from. (With inputs by Keith J Fernandez)

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