The Observer | 11/23/2009 12:00:00 AM
The making of Saint Shakira
Nov 23--She's Latin America's hottest singer with fans around the world. But in her native Colombia Shakira is as well known for her work with the country's poorest children. Euan Ferguson meets a popstar with real attitude
Mainly, the power comes from the fact that I am very soon thinking about far deeper things than one might expect, especially if one was coming to Shakira on the music and looks alone. Thinking, arguing, about aspects of pre-teen education, and realising that she not only knows what she's talking about, but puts her money where her mouth is. It suddenly strikes me that she's Madonna gone right. She's not arrogant or demanding, she can sing, can actually dance, writes her own music, does good things for children without always having to pick them up and "take them home with her". Shakira doesn't just talk about it: she gets things done. In the past few years she has built five children's schools in her native Colombia. She sits through interminable meetings with squabbling Latin American politicians, trying to charm and nuance her way into firm commitments to education for 0 to 6-year-olds. Both Barack Obama and Gordon Brown have called her for advice, and they weren't cosmetic calls, and she's now busy talking to Warren Buffet's son, Howard, about future programmes. For perhaps the first time ever, I find myself becoming interested in pop stars who do – well, this is honestly not "charidee", it's the real thing. She is seen as something of a saint in her own country. There are statues to her. Writhing teens love her for putting Latin American dance-music around the world: nuns revere her for building schools for orphans.
It would be wilfully disingenuous to deny, of course, that there are other reasons to like her. I mean… 4ft 11in tall (though nearer five six in tonight's heels), 32 years old, svelte and lithe and impossibly smiley and, oh, she's also unmarried and worth an estimated €26m… what's not to adore? But it's not just me, by which I mean it's not just men. "Bloody hell I love her," texts a female friend when hearing that I'm meeting her. "Even if she is a freak by having precisely double the number of vertebrae of 'normal' women."
Read more here.
Semana International delivers news about Colombia in English. Find more in our home.