One of the most successful pop stars in the world throughout the past two decades, Shakira is inspired by a fusion of different genres of music and dance from around the globe. These influences and her songs have occasionally led to confusion about where Shakira is actually from, with some thinking she is from Africa.
Shakira is not African. She was born and raised in Colombia with a diverse mix of genetic history from across Europe and Western Asia. Her recent ancestry is a combination of Lebanese, Catalan/Spanish, and Italian, which explains her unique looks and some of her musical stylings. There was some backlash against her singing the official anthem of the 2010 FIFA World Cup of soccer, which was held in South Africa.
For more on Shakira’s ancestry and some of the controversy in Africa, read on.
Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoli was born in Barranquilla, Colombia on 2 February 1977. Her father is William Mebarak Chadid, whose parents were both Lebanese but who was born in New York City. He immigrated to Colombia at an early age, where Shakira would later be born. Her mother is Nidia Ripoli Torrado, from whom she inherited Spanish/Catalan and Italian ancestry. She also had eight older half-siblings from her father’s previous marriage.
As a four year old, Shakira visited a local Middle Eastern restaurant with her father and, after hearing traditional Arabic music, started dancing. She greatly enjoyed the experience and it sparked her passion for belly dancing, a feature of her performances for the rest of her career, and one of the main symbols of her father’s influence.
Shakira signed her first record deal as a teenager and released five Spanish-language albums, initially struggling to find both her musical identity and commercial success. Her third album was a hit, however, and she has never looked back.
Transitioning into English with her first global hit “Whenever, Wherever” was difficult (she had to use a rhyming dictionary in order to translate her lyrics) but she felt that it was the only way to have truly a true worldwide career in music.
World Cup 2010
Shakira provided the official song for the 2010 FIFA World Cup of soccer, which was hosted in South Africa. While a great opportunity for any musician, the songs are generally inoffensive pop tracks with universal appeal and a way of reaching potential viewers who might otherwise not tune in for the tournament.
There was some backlash against Shakira in South Africa, with locals feeling that it was important that the World Cup be a chance to celebrate African culture and broadcast it around the world.
The song, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) did was on a marching chant from Cameroon and had backup by Freshlyground, a South African group, but the choice to use a song written and performed by a star from another continent did not sit well with a number of the population, who even held a meeting with FIFA, soccer’s governing body.
FIFA did later include a number of African acts in the opening and closing ceremony of the World Cup, though whether or not this was a response to the criticism or already planned is unclear. The issue was raised again in 2020 when Shakira performed the Super Bowl halftime show with Jennifer Lopez. She performed “Waka Waka” but omitted the lyric “This time for Africa”, causing an outcry from African viewers on social media.
Despite the response to her from some, there are also many who feel that a pop megastar like Shakira incorporating African influences into her music is something to celebrate, as it can only help bring attention to African music as a whole.
Still, however international her influences and inspirations are, Shakira is definitely not African.