Saturday, December 5, 2009

"Ojos Asi" by Shakira (1999)

Okay. Let me just say it and get it out of the way: Shakira is an immensely talented woman who deserves financial recompense for her talent at whatever cost that may entail. Whew. I feel better.

I say that sentence because I’m not a snob, truly. I don’t sit there with a latte sniffing and accusing any underground artiste who’s ever sold in excess of 10,000 copies of their music of ‘selling out’. Glamorizing obscurity (or in this case ‘authenticity’) for its own sake is a little pointless. It is genuinely a pity the sacrifices artistes sometimes have to make for a wider audience, but life is not always fair.

So… who am I to criticize Shakira for going blonde, moving to the States, collaborating with Gloria Este-frickin’-han and singing repeatedly about the size of her breasts? Right? Hey? Plus, “Hips Don’t Lie” and “Objection” are all right. The less said about songs whose titles end in “…Clothes”, the better.

But this… this is a hurricane, a whirlwind, a force of nature. This is something fundamental in the human spirit brought forth and recorded onto modern machines. Exotic as hell, it seamlessly mixes Arabic and South American – Lebanese and Colombian – with a guitar sound and an attitude out of American heavy metal, all grafted onto a Euro techno pulse. Yet despite all of this, it never sounds anything less than natural and never for a minute pushes you away by being foreign or disparate. Listening to this song makes you feel that there’s a little bit of American- and European-influenced Lebanese Colombian in all of us.

Okay, tongue ever so slightly in cheek. The thing is that I really don’t understand why this is not enough for the world. Why something this stunning, this powerful, this forceful didn’t suffice to make Shakira a star, why inevitably it came down to the language she was singing in. The first question I have is whether or not we here in the English-speaking world are truly so provincial that we cannot connect to music whose lyrics we can’t understand. For every “99 Luftballons” whose original happily manages to outsell its ‘translation’, there are a dozen singers taking English lessons in order to pursue that golden ring. And the second question is why, outside of the English- (and in this case Spanish-) speaking markets, sales should increase the moment the singer puts out an English-language song. I mean, a foreign language is still a foreign language to, say, a German, isn’t it?

Shakira speaks excellent English and writes great lyrics in English too. But I’m not sure if I can find an English-language song by her that has quite the passion we can hear in this song as she declaims forth over that beguiling mix of eastern percussion and western machines. No, I don’t know what she’s saying. But I fee what she’s saying. And since music is a gut-reaction experience, that’s the more important thing, in my opinion.

Pity so few people worldwide, or at least so few record companies worldwide, appear to agree.

Oh, and as a final note, isn’t she drop-dead gorgeous as a brunette?

(This blog mentions in it.)
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