Shakira is one of the most recognizable music stars of the past two decades, achieving great success in both English and Spanish speaking markets. Is the singer Mexican herself?
Shakira isn’t Mexican. She was born and raised in Colombia. Her father was American, of Lebanese descent, and her mother was Colombian, of Spanish and Italian ancestry. Her early albums were recorded in Spanish, attaining great success after a difficult start, later transitioning to English.
For more about Shakira’s family and her beginnings in Colombia, read on.
Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoli was born on 2 February 1977, the only child of William Mebarak Chadid and Nidia Ripoll Torrado.
William was born in New York City but his parents had emigrated to the US from Lebanon, making Shakira half Lebanese by blood. He moved to Colombia at 5 years old and stayed there into adulthood.
Nidia, who was born in Colombia, has a mix of Spanish, specifically Catalan, and Italian ancestry.
The name Shakira is Arabic, the feminine form of Shakir, and means “grateful”. Shakira has eight half-siblings from William’s previous marriage but no full siblings.
She was raised in Barranquilla, a city on the north coast of Colombia, on the Caribbean. She inherited her mother’s Catholicism and attended Catholic schools in her youth.
This mix of her parents’ different cultures provided a foundation for the musician Shakira would later become.
At the age of 4, she went with her father to a Middle Eastern restaurant and heard somebody playing a Doumbek, a traditional Arabic drum, and started dancing on a table.
This was an early taste of performing in public and a spark that later led Shakira to a hugely successful career in music.
Despite taking her love of music to school with her, frequently singing for schoolmates, teachers and nuns alike, Shakira was actually rejected for the school’s choir due to having too strong a vibrato.
She was told by a teacher that she sounded “like a goat”, a claim that, were it true, would make her by far the most successful goatlike singer in history.
Despite that negative criticism, Shakira’s love of music continued to grow and she started performing at public events at just 10 years old.
A local theater producer, Monica Ariza, organized a hotel lobby audition with Sony Colombia executive Ciro Vargas, who was able to secure Shakira a three-record deal with Sony.
Shakira’s early recordings were in her native Spanish, with her debut album, “Magia” receiving a mixed response, selling just 1200 copies. Her second release, “Peligro”, also struggled, in part due to Shakira disliking the album’s production and refusing to promote it.
Both these albums, recorded while Shakira was a teenager, were pulled from release and the singer no longer considers them official albums.
Sony financed the third album on her record deal, her last chance after the failures of her previous attempts, and “Pies Descalzos” was released in 1995.
The album, featuring a Shakira who was more mature musically, was a huge hit reaching number 5 on the US Latin Albums chart and went platinum within a year of release.
Although she was now a star in the Spanish speaking world, Shakira understood that there would always be a limit to her international success if her future releases were all in her native tongue.
To truly become a global star, she would need to transition to English, which she did in late 2001. Shakira had studied English for years and could speak the language well enough to have a conversation but she wanted to be able to write lyrics in English.
She had written poetry since childhood and read the work of English speaking poets, specifically Walt Whitman and Leonard Cohen.
She released “Laundry Service” and the album reached the number 3 spot in the Billboard album charts, eventually selling more than 13 million copies, a massive success.