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.
‘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