Shakira is no stranger to the UAE. When she played Dubai Autodrome in 2006 she pulled in a whopping 25,000 punters. However, when she rolls – or gyrates – into town for the La Rumba New Year’s Eve Party this year, she’ll be gracing Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace for the first time. And she’s excited. ‘The UAE is one of the most modern and vibrant places in the world today,’ she enthuses. ‘I was amazed to see the blend of so many unique peoples that make up the region.’
Of course, fusing cultures is one of Shakira’s pet subjects. Despite being Columbian born, both her name (Shakira translates as ‘thankful’) and her father’s family (from Lebanon) are Arabic in origin. ‘The dance, music and culture here have always played a big part in my artistic influences,’ she admits. ‘I have been belly dancing since I was a young child.’ So now we know from where those freaky extra stomach muscles derive.
Rumour has it that, aged four, upon hearing her first doumbek (an Arabic drum usually used to accompany belly dancers), little Shakira Ripoll leaped onto the tables of a local Middle Eastern restaurant her father frequented, and gave her first impromptu performance.
Indeed, you only have to see her on stage, whether it’s dancing for a restaurant audience as a child, or in front of 10,000 fans at Emirates Palace, to see it is something that comes naturally to her. But few remember that Shakira has been a recording artist since she was 14. Her first album was released in 1991, before a lean spell led to her landing a role in Columbian soap El Oasis. It wasn’t until she was 18 that her star exploded across South America. ‘Everyone wanted a little piece of me. Brazil wanted a hand, Columbia wanted a foot,’ she recalls.
In 2001, Shakira released her first English language album, Laundry Service, working alongside another Latin mega star, Gloria Estefan. Then, in 2005, she got her first US number-one single, ‘Hips Don’t Lie’. It had been a long time in the making. ‘I was just developing myself as an artist,’ she says, ‘getting to know myself a little better, and I think everything happened at the right moment.’ Of course, the difficulty for Latin stars to break into the English speaking world has been well documented. Shakira is very much a pioneer. To this day, she is the only South American singer to reach number one in the US, Australia, the UK and in the world charts, and she is already the highest selling Columbian artist of all time, with more than 60 million records sold. Visit her hometown of Barranquilla and you can see a 30ft-high statue of her strumming a guitar, often with little girls dancing around it.
Certainly there is no one more appropriate to lead Abu Dhabi’s La Rumba New Year’s Party; there are also few less starry. ‘My family has agreed to join me in Abu Dhabi, so I will have everything I need: my family and all of my friends.’ And 10,000 screaming fans.
La Rumba NYE Party featuring Shakira is held at Emirates Palace on December 31. Tickets available at www.boxofficeme.com