According to none other than Gabriel García Márquez, Shakira “has invented her own brand of innocent sensuality”. Translation: the octogenarian novelist is a fan of his fellow Colombian’s belly-dancing routines, which she deploys in tribute to her family’s Lebanese ancestry. It’s her USP and, in fairness to Márquez, there is an air of innocence to it. Unlike the tacky, semi-pornographic styling of her North American counterparts – Britney’s schoolgirl uniform, Christina’s leather chaps – Shakira’s million-watt smile and permanently swivelling hips are wholesome entertainment.
A superstar in Latin America since the mid-1990s, she is one of the few Spanish-language pop stars to be a hit in the English-speaking world. One reason is her eccentric but appealing mishmash of influences. Her songs are all big voice, big hair and power chords, alongside a smattering of South American folk motifs (including the inevitable panpipes) and snaky oriental rhythms. It’s meaty stuff: stadium rock as lingua franca.
Although she releases albums in English, most recently 2005’s Oral Fixation Vol 2, the bulk of tonight’s concert was sung in Spanish. In a reversal of linguistic stereotypes, she used her native tongue for the rock songs and switched to English for emotional ballads such as “Illegal” and “Underneath Your Clothes”. The best songs were forceful and percussive, their beats inspiring much shimmying and twirling from the singer: they were so catchy it didn’t matter which language they were sung in. Others, however, were formulaic: predictably huge choruses and chugging guitars made them samey.
Unlike her last European tour, whose stage set involved a 30ft snake’s head effigy and cavewomen’s costumes, this one was comparatively restrained. It was only for the last song, the belly-dancing extravaganza “Hips Don’t Lie”, that she was joined by a troupe of dancers, who should have been employed earlier in the set. Shakira’s force-10 vocals and gyrations made for a good show, but more pizzazz would have been welcome.
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