"I'm a little more in touch with my desires," Shakira recently said, "and a little more empowered, or encouraged, to satisfy those desires and set them free."
One of the few truly global superstars of our time, Shakira is extending her reach with her eighth studio album, SHE WOLF. The daring, innovative project is the long-awaited follow-up to 2005's groundbreaking one-two punch comprised of Fijacion Oral, Volume 1 and Oral Fixation, Volume 2, a pair of albums which combined to sell over 12 million copies worldwide and secured the young Colombian-born singer's place among pop music royalty.
SHE WOLF reveals, however, that despite her triumphs on the charts, and her increasingly ambitious off-stage role as an activist and philanthropist, Shakira's heart has stayed close to the dance floor. Co-writing and producing this album, Shakira worked with a diverse range of superstar producers and songwriters—most notably, Pharrell Williams and the Neptunes, but also Wyclef Jean, Timbaland and John Hill —she has created an irresistible set of deceptively rich, club-ready tracks.
"My biggest motivation was to make an album that people could just have fun with, and forget about their troubles," she recently said. "Now I can use music for the purpose it's created for—to amuse and entertain people, and also express other feelings, but things that are more personal."
Her musical style can be called “pop fusion,” characterized by her eclectic tastes, from Middle Eastern beats to heavy metal guitars—and new songs like the slinky, percussive "Long Time" or the rocked-up kiss-off "Mon Amour" illustrate her commitment to remaining a sonic omnivore. It's a long way from the folk-tinged intro of "Gypsy" to the full-on disco breaks of "Men In This Town" or her work with Hossam Ramzy of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir fame arranging the Egyptian orchestra on “Why Wait,” but Shakira's voice and attitude make it all feel cohesive. SHE WOLF's title track, with its New Wave synth-pop sound and characteristically off-center lyrics ("darling it is no joke, this is lycanthropy") is already a multi-format smash in both English and Spanish ("Loba") versions.
“This was a sonic experimental trip. I wanted to play around with electronica, beats, synthesizers and I began to research folk from other countries looking for new influences that allowed me to combine electronics with world sounds, tambourines, clarinets, oriental and Hindu music, dancehall, etc.,” she has said. “You never know the final destination of a creative project, but from the beginning I wanted to make sure that this album had a very strong foundation. I wanted it to be very bass-driven, and to make sure the kicks hit really hard.”
During her fifteen-year career, Shakira has always been fearless in blending musical genres and sounds; in concert, she moves easily from belly-dancing to shouting out covers of AC/DC and Aerosmith songs. Recording sessions for SHE WOLF circled the globe, taking Shakira from New York to Paris, from Cairo to the Bahamas, and saw her cut dozens of songs before settling on a final album.
Shakira has said that she considers both "She Wolf" and its ultra-sexy video, “symbolic of the woman of our time, who knows what she wants and defends her individual liberties with teeth and claws, who rebels against the limitations that society and our own culture places on her." Indeed, though the album is geared for dancing, and devoted largely to matters of the heart and the bedroom, a deeper theme is also apparent in many of the songs, which examine issues of identity and role-playing. "My music always reflects my state of mind," she has said. “I’m in a more liberated place right now. I feel more solid as a person, as a woman.”
This sense of artistic exploration is no surprise coming from a woman who began writing songs at the age of eight, learned to speak English by studying the work of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Walt Whitman, and took history classes at UCLA during her break between albums. The compassionate side of Shakira is most obvious in the remarkable work of her Pies Descalzos (Barefoot) Foundation, which she started at the age of 18 and has now opened it’s fifth school. The foundation currently provides education and nutrition to over six thousand impoverished children in Colombia and is working to expand its work to other countries.
"We shouldn’t think of this as charity” she said “every child has talent to be developed and the potential to become a productive member of society. Education is a powerful tool to unlock those talents—and to break the cycle of poverty that too often traps them.” Shakira has also become a leading advocate for universal education, speaking to world leaders on the topic and advocating policy change to governments around the world.
Over the course of her career, Grammy winner Shakira has sold close to fifty million albums. Her collaborations with such stars as Beyonce and Alejandro Sanz have helped keep her audience expanding continually. She is the only artist from South America to have a Number One song in the US, and her performance was a highlight of the concert celebrating President Obama's inauguration. She has four of the twenty top-selling hits of the decade, more than any other artist—and that includes 2006's unforgettable "Hips Don't Lie," the biggest-selling single of the 21st Century, which reached the Number One spot in an astonishing 55 countries.
Renowned for her power and presence as a live performer, Shakira is gearing up for the release of a Spanish language album in the coming months, and a world tour in 2010. After dedicating some time to her concerns away from the spotlight, it's clear that Shakira's passion as an artist is as strong as ever, and SHE WOLF stands as proof that she will remain front and center on the global stage for a long time to come.
"When I look back, I can't believe the path behind me," she has said, "I always feel like I haven't really done anything. It's been 20 years, but I still care about my career. I care about the music."