By Tania Zapien
If you grew up in a Latin household like myself, odds are your introduction to Shakira came way before finding out that her hips don’t lie. Back before the features with Beyoncé, Rihanna, and of course, the Super Bowl halftime show, Shakira was a household name all across Latin America for the better half of the 90s.
Let me take you back exactly 10 years before she took over the U.S charts, when Shakira was a charismatic 18-year-old with a rebellious kick, and a voice so unique it became her staple. As the daughter of a Colombian mother and a Lebabnese father, Shakira found ways to incorporate her Latin and Arabic roots into her own blend of alternative rock. Rocking long, black hair and dark eyeliner, Shakira wrote songs about social issues, blind love and scarring heartbreak. A Latin Alanis Morissette, if you will.
In 1995, Shakira released her album Pies Descalzos. Listening to this album in full as a 24-year-old made me realize how incredibly wise beyond her years she was. Although I was under the age of 10 when I first listened to these songs, I always assumed that the girl singing was older and had a better understanding of the world than I had at 18. There are two songs on this album that have stuck with me throughout the years.
In “Pies Descalzos, Suenos Blancos,” she criticizes the human race and how the development of society has led us to become unconscious human beings, caring only about things that we created and that ultimately don’t matter. Then we have “Antologia,” which is in my opinion one of her best songs ever. “Antologia” is a beautifully written slow track about a breakup. However, instead of dwelling on the fact that the relationship is over, each verse lists all of the wonderful things that she learned from this person, and how they are now embedded into who she is.
In 1998, Shakira followed up with Donde estan los Ladrones?, the album that won her the Pop Album of the Year by a Female Artist at the Billboard Latin Music Award, and her first Grammy nomination for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album in 1999. Inspired by the robbery of part of her luggage, which included a briefcase with most of her songs for her upcoming album, Shakira focused on the mistrust she felt of the world and her native country of Colombia, where the incident happened. Several songs expressed her anger and disillusionment with her country, and focused on exposing how Colombians were being robbed of their rights and dreams every day.
In particular, there are two songs that I was really drawn to from this album. “Inevitable,” which is the best among her rock ballads, she is incredibly honest and vulnerable. She confesses all the things she can’t do, like make coffee or follow soccer, how she’s bad at wearing watches and showering on Sundays, and how she cries at least once a month. She goes on to say that she is well aware that she is hard to deal with, but that the love she is able to provide for this specific person is worth dealing with her flaws.
Another outstanding track on this album is “Octavo Dia,” where she ponders on what God would think of his creation when he came back on the eight day. The story follows God’s return as being full of disappointment at how we treat each other. It criticized the lack of judgement humans have been flawed with, stating that if God was to come back, we would treat him as a peasant because he’s not a celebrity, rich or royalty. One of the most impactful lines in this song is when she depicts a tired God giving up on us and going off to create a new one. “We’d have no choice but to worship Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton, or Tarzan,” she sings.
Although there’s no denying that Shakira has made a name for herself in the English speaking world since her release of “Hips Don’t Lie” in 2005 and hits like “Whenever, Wherever” and “She Wolf,” these early albums defined and shaped a generation. To this day, I can still walk into my mom’s house and hear Pies Descalzos playing in the background and I think that is what made her Super Bowl halftime appearance so epic to me and many other Latinos. We remember the rebellious and unapologetic rocker with leather pants and dreads in her hair and have seen her turn into this international super star. With a humble heart and attitude toward her success, she has made Colombia and all of Latin America very proud.
Featured image via Columbia Records.