BELLY UP

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - A N A Ly S I S -

are in charge. “We live in a so­ci­ety that re­presses women's sub­con­scious dreams,” Shakira says, her eyes nar­row­ing.

“ You know, women have to make enor­mous ef­forts through life, much larger than men. We deal with so many pres­sures: the pres­sure of aes­thet­ics, and how so­ci­ety wants us to de­liver our per­for­mances as moth­ers, daugh­ters and wives. And then, on top of it, we must sweat it out at the gym try­ing to get rid of cel­lulite.”

That's on the agenda to­day, too. While she's wait­ing for her en­gi­neer to fin­ish the mix, Shakira grabs a black leather bag of gym clothes and heads to the back of a stu­dio, where a pe­tite trainer has set up a gym for her to train two hours a day. Dozens of elas­tic bands hang from the ceil­ing, and a step ma­chine is set up in front of a mir­ror, ready to do its part in her daily diet of a zil­lion squats. “I do them un­til my leg is go­ing to fall off,” she says. “I never went to the gym be­fore in my life, but at 32 I no­tice that my body re­sponds neg­a­tively to bad food, so I must make dou­ble the ef­fort.”

Dou­ble the ef­fort is Shakira's way of mov­ing through the world. She con­ducts busi­ness both in the English-speak­ing world and in the Span­ish-speak­ing one, and she is pro­duc­ing She Wolf in two lan­guages at once. Her next al­bum is likely go­ing to be ex­clu­sively in Span­ish, and she's pre­par­ing for a global tour af­ter that. In fact, her boyfriend, An­to­nio de la Rua, the son of a for­mer pres­i­dent of Ar­gentina, and an in­vest­ment banker, re­cently trav­elled to Colom­bia to help re­search the new Span­ish al­bum. “We flew around to dif­fer­ent vil­lages, even in the deep­est ar­eas of the jun­gle where they still speak African di­alect,” says pro­ducer John Hill, who ac­com­pa­nied de la Rua on the ex­pe­di­tion. “We recorded 85-year-old song­writ­ers, kids' ac­cor­dion groups, peo­ple singing on the street — just grab­bing things to in­spire Shakira for the record.”

The prod­uct of a late mar­riage by a Colom­bian woman and a jew­ellery-store owner of Le­banese de­scent with seven chil­dren from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage, Shakira seems to have al­ways been driven. She started belly danc­ing at four, when she watched a per­for­mance in a Mid­dle East­ern restau­rant. “I liked it so much that I asked my fa­ther to get me some Ara­bic mu­sic, and my mother bought me a turquoise, custom-made dress to prac­tise in,” she says. She be­gan writ­ing songs around the age of eight, then en­rolled in mod­el­ling school and per­formed on Colom­bia's state-fair cir­cuit be­fore she landed a con­tract with Sony's Latin divi­sion at age 13 — she am­bushed a rep in his ho­tel lobby to get an au­di­ence. Her first two al­bums didn't do well, though, and she was forced to take a part in a soap opera that won her ‘Best Bot­tom on TV’ in a news­pa­per. She fi­nally hit the charts in 1994 with a rock al­bum, Pies Descal­zos [ Bare Feet]. “I kept go­ing to the same school af­ter that,” she says. “Ex­cept I started sign­ing au­to­graphs in class.”

Th­ese days, Shakira doesn't spend a lot of time in Colom­bia, even though her par­ents still live there, but she is deeply in­vested in help­ing to fig­ure out the na­tion's so­cial prob­lems — a prod­uct of gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion and 30 years of guer­rilla war. She runs what amounts to an­other ca­reer as an ad­vo­cate for early-child­hood ed­u­ca­tion, speak­ing at fo­rums around the world and build­ing ele­men­tary schools in Colom­bia through her three foun­da­tions. “Shakira is a young woman, but she could be 50 years old,” says Maria Emma Me­jia, the head of one of them. “She has ex­cep­tional dis­ci­pline.” The schools are run in con­junc­tion with the gov­ern­ment, but they pro­vide uni­forms, mu­sic and dance classes and even, in some cases, hire the moth­ers of chil­dren to cook nu­tri­tious lunches. “In Latin Amer­ica, there's a stupid cy­cle where if you are born poor, you will die poor,” Shakira says. “We're try­ing to change that.”

Re­fus­ing to main­tain the sta­tus quo has be­come very im­por­tant to Shakira, and that's part of why she's re­fused to marry her boyfriend, even though they are monog­a­mous and have been to­gether for nine years. “It's funny how the pa­pers want to see you mar­ried, and then they want to see you di­vorced,” she says, with a flash of anger. “Well, I won't do any of it.” She has also per­haps re­pu­di­ated her Catholi­cism, though she will not overtly say so. “I've be­come very prac­ti­cal, very ra­tio­nal,” says Shakira. “If I don't see it, I don't be­lieve it.” Tonight, when as­sis­tants start telling sto­ries about see­ing ghosts at Com­pass Point Stu­dios, she says, “I was so afraid of ghosts when I was younger. Not any­more. I don't be­lieve in any of that crap.” She laughs, and then calls out mock-plain­tively: “Ah, sorry! Wher­ever you are, for­give me!”

To fol­low her own path, Shakira sees a Freudian psy­chother­a­pist, a 70-year-old an­a­lyst she meets with of­ten when she is in New York and speaks to on the phone from else­where. “I love see­ing a map of my sub­con­scious mind and hav­ing a space that is only mine, where that mind can speak, and I can lis­ten to it,” she says. “It is the cap­tain of our ship, and our des­tiny.” She thinks that she's be­come a bit stuck at the oral-fix­a­tion stage of life. “I've al­ways lived through my mouth, like a per­son in jail lives through a win­dow,” she has said. “It's my big­gest source of plea­sure: what I say, what I sing, the kisses I give, the chocolate I eat.”

Even with talk like this, Shakira is still a good girl, an over achiever. It's hard not to feel sorry for her as she sweats away, reach­ing for su­per­star­dom un­der the in­tense time pres­sure of need­ing to start a fam­ily. Af­ter her work­out, she starts to slog through a long day in the stu­dio. With her two heavy­set as­sis­tants, she ag­o­nises over an up­com­ing pro­mo­tional sched­ule in Mi­ami for an hour. The three of them in­ter­mit­tently chat and work Black­Ber­rys like de­fence at­tor­neys pre­par­ing briefs, con­stantly shak­ing their heads at the in­ep­ti­tude of the per­son at the other end of their mes­sages. Soon, they move to a con­fer­ence room to con­sider po­ten­tial al­bum cov­ers on a lap­top. Shakira scrolls through a hun­dred im­ages, most with im­per­cep­ti­ble dif­fer­ences, as the as­sis­tants mur­mur at her shoul­der. One is “too con­fus­ing and un­in­tel­li­gi­ble for the mind to cap­ture it”, oth­ers are “mas­cu­line, much too much”, she sighs. “The font should be freer,” she says, wav­ing a hand around. “ She Wolf is all about do­ing what you want!”

It's al­most 10pm when Shakira fi­nally gets on a con­fer­ence call via Skype with Wy­clef Jean's en­gi­neer in New York to dis­cuss the 15 ver­sions of Spy he sent to her ear­lier in the day. She takes a seat in an Aeron chair, dead cen­tre at the con­sole, writ­ing down changes to the trum­pet, drums and vo­cals on a lined white pad. “Wy­clef 's kind of buried in there right now,” she says. “He's my friend. I've got to pro­tect him,” she laughs. “You know, th­ese songs were recorded when I was in Paris — wine, cheese, vib­ing it. You can't recre­ate that shit.” She takes out a nail file and rubs away, shak­ing her head. “ Yes­ter­day, when we had a con­fer­ence call, I looked so ter­ri­ble,” she says. She throws her bare foot up on the lip of the sound­board and wrig­gles it around. “That's all I put on the we­b­cam for him to see, just my bare foot.”

The phone call goes on for a few hours, be­fore Shakira fi­nally turns to her mixes. “Ah, my crav­ings from that cup of cof­fee,” she says. “I want chocolate.” She set­tles in­stead for sat­is­fy­ing her oral fix­a­tion with a con­stant stream of ce­real — “130 calo­ries a cup! Too many!” — and a minia­ture pop­si­cle she made from frozen corozo, a fruit that she says is only found in Bar­ran­quilla in north­ern Colom­bia. “I tried to plant corozo here, but it didn't work,” she says, hold­ing her stom­ach from hunger. “I am a su­gar ad­dict, and late night is bad. This is when I do bad things. No! I mean eat bad things.” Then she adds: “A Freudian slip.”

The mix goes on and she stands up in the mid­dle of the room. Her shoes are off — her dress is so long that, without them, it turns out she can't help but step on the hem. “I'm back to my reg­u­lar height,” she says. Then she closes her eyes. “I have to fo­cus 100 per cent of my in­tel­lec­tual and phys­i­cal en­ergy on the mu­sic,” she says. The track starts, and for the first time, her face com­pletely shuts down — sud­denly, she's trans­formed into a totem, and even her lips seem to lose their puff, length­en­ing into a solid line. Then she be­gins to move and, this time her dance is not se­duc­tive, not for a man, not for the cam­eras. She jerks her arms around, her belly pul­sat­ing oddly from the cen­tre of her body. It's as though she's pos­sessed.

When her eyes open, they're glassy, al­most like she's stoned. She dunks her pop­si­cle stick in her drained porce­lain cof­fee cup and lets out a tremendous gig­gle. “What the hell,” she says. “Let's send this to mas­ter­ing. It might be be­cause my ears are clos­ing up, but I leave it now with all of you and your con­sciences! Print it, and I'll hear it on the al­bum.” She closes her eyes again, and for the first time she looks as if she's at peace. “I'm feel­ing it,” she says.

L

‘They want to see you mar­ried, and then they want to see you di­vorced. Well, I won't do any of it’ — Shakira with her boyfriend of nine years, An­to­nio de la Rua, son of a for­mer Ar­gen­tinian pres­i­dent

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