Cousin Franz: Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Minuet in G Major,” popularly known as “The Minuet for Lovers,” is a pretty tune to start with. Tweaked and transformed, it can soar, as in The Toys’ “A Lover’s Concerto” (more famously covered by The Supremes). It can also announce sadness, as in the opening of ABBA’s “The Winner Takes it All” or The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand by You.” When Shakira, the continuously cool Colombian singer-songwriter, announced herself to the international music scene with “Estoy Aqui” (“I’m Here”), she did it by quoting Bach’s “Minuet”- and ABBA- AND the Pretenders- and by wrapping it all in a package that earned complimentary comparisons to Alanis Morissette.
Never mind that most of Shakira’s sound at that point was far more comparable to that of Gloria Trevi or Alejandra Guzman. It was 1995, the International Year of “Jagged Little Pill,” so Shakira, or her wise handlers, may have been happy with the “Latin Alanis” talk. It sold an album, “Pies Descalzos” (“Bare Feet”) after the singer’s teenage flops, “Magic” and “Danger” (Two amateurish records hidden under lock and key deep in the artist’s basement). Why else would Shakira spend part of her “Estoy Aqui” video wearing the same snow cap that Morrissette donned in HER infamous grammar-nerd-baiting “Ironic” video? There’s not much snow in Colombia.
Shakira was 17 when she wrote the album’s next classic, “Antologia” (“Anthology”). It’s a list of an ex-lover’s gifts that allows her to display the gentle balladry that would mark her best love songs- as well as the often goofy wordplay that she would have trouble translating in her English outings, (although a line like “I gained almost six pounds / from your sweet kisses” leads to groans in any language.)
The other ballads include the somewhat passive pleas of “Te Necesito” (“I Need You”) and “Vuelve” (“Come Back”) – in which her lover puts her in the pitiable plight of “a Christian in the middle of the Roman Empire,” presumably in Nero’s days) but Shaki perks up and gets her Jarabe de Palo on with “Te Espero Sentada.” (“I’m Waiting Sitting Down.”) She can wider her scope: In “Bare Feet, White Dreams,” she plays at grunge by indicting mankind’s historical failures.
In “Donde Estas Corazon” (“Where Are You, My Dear”) she plays at rap with the chorus, a rapid-fire listing of all the places she’s willing to go looking for her lover, including the dictionary, Botero’s paintings, and the radio: three more influences in Shakira’s work.
In “Un Poco De Amor” (“A Little Bit of Love”), she plays with colorful but synthetic reggae that hints at her international intentions: “From Dublin to Babylon, Brasilia to Medellin.”) But “Pies Descalzos”’ oddest, hardest-hitting track is “Se Quiere, Se Mata” (roughly translated it, “One Loves, One Kills”): a story-song about a young middle-class couple and an abortion that goes bad, it somehow doesn’t come across as an anti-abortion screed but as a dig at the repressive and repressed society that would force the frightened teen to get an abortion in the first place.
It’s sad to note that in Spanish, the common term for “pregnancy” is still “embarazo” – that is, an “embarrassment.” The song is cleverly sequenced toward the end: anyone who might find its topic too heavy has already been charmed by all the previous winners. It’s too late to skip out on “Pies Descalzos.”
If “Pies Descalzos” was the foot in the door, “Donde Estan Los Ladrones?” (“Where Are the Thieves?”) was a door-breaking kick. Guided by Latin music mogul Emilio Estefan Jr., Shakira poured her soul into a zillion-selling album that was a seemingly inexhaustible generator of hits in 1996 (7 of its 11 tracks made some sort of impact in the charts). A yearning mariachi band may open “Ciega, Sordomuda” (“Blind, Deaf-Mute”), but soon Shakira finds herself on a pounding dance-floor, suffering the extreme effects of passion.
Ballads like “Tu” and “Inevitable” further the point: Shakira writes intelligent songs about falling stupid in love.
Not that she tolerates stupid love in her men: “Si Te Vas” (“If You Go”) is a stern warning to the foolish man who would trade her in for some new sensation. But the truth is that if he did, she might wind up as the disheveled, forlorn narrator in “Flies In The House” (“Moscas En la Casa”), and so she might beg for her lover to return, as she does in “Que Vuelvas” or “Sombra de Ti” (“The Shadow of You.”) The manifesto here, though, is “No Creo” (“I Don’t Believe”). Shakira believes only in her lover: other items provoking her skepticism are John Gray’s “Venus and Mars,” Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, Brian Weiss. A good Catholic schoolgirl at heart, she stops short of John Lennon’s “God.”
Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton, and Tarzan are not on her good list, either, as revealed in “Octavo Dia” (“8th Day”). That song is unmistakably set atop the chords that make Aerosmith’s “Dream On” – just as its lyrics unmistakably allude to Joan Osborne’s “One of Us.” God returns to Earth after a well-deserved vacation to find he’s been left unemployed and homeless: “Poor God, who’s not on magazine covers/ he’s not an artist or model.”
When a suitcase full of her lyrics got stolen at El Dorado International Airport in Bogota, Shakira felt inspired to write the angry title track, (the most “Alanis” she gets in the album). It indicts thieves and murderers of all sorts, including in the Colombian government, leaving very little Earth un-scorched. (She never got her suitcase back, though.)
One of the crucial Latin Pop albums of the ‘90s, “Donde Estan Los Ladrones” never gets boring thanks to a sequencing that swings between fast and slow, political and sentimental, Latin Pop, and Rock en Espanol. Its final track is good enough to start a whole new party; whatever the cliche about an outro hinting at a new direction, “Ojos Asi” more than fulfills it it. Shakira had talked about her ( more distant than PR would have it ) Lebanese ancestry, but there had been no musical nods to it until “Ojos Asi,” a “Thousand and One Nights” Fantasy that finds Shakira searching Behrain and Beirut for dark eyes. This would be the future for Shaki.
Hank: I may have learned most of my Spanish from hearing Desi Arnaz verbally assault his wife on “I Love Lucy,” but belly-dancing is a universal language, and by that standard Shakira sure knows how to talk pretty. Cherry!
Tracey: Oh, you’re missing the point, Dad! Sure, Shakira unfortunately got transmogrified after translation into some sort of exotic Hispanic-Lebanese sexpot. But she is also one of the best lyricists in pop music. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call her a wordsmith. She is at least as good as Stevie Nicks.
Beatricia: When discussing Stevie Nicks, thread lightly, young lady. I still control what you eat, and how much poison goes into it.
Trent: Mucho caliente! Hot chick, hip-shaking music. One blazing red hot chili pepper cherry!
Grandpa Felicius: Oh you plebeians! You earless earthworms! The “Minuet in G Major” was NOT composed by Bach! It has long been attributed to Dresden’s organ-playing prodigy Christian Pedtzold. Am I the only one who bothers to take advantage of our “Gramophone” magazine subscription?
Blurbarella: “Ojerosa, flaca, fea desgreñada,
torpe, tonta, lenta, nécia, desquiciada,
tu te das cuenta y no me dices nada
se me ha vuelto
la cabeza un nido
donde solamente tu tienes asilo
y no me escuchas lo que te digo
mira bien lo que vas a hacer conmigo”
4 out of 6 Cherries