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Paul Mann: Shakira Shakes Up the Santa Barbara Bowl

Latina singing sensation wows a sold-out crowd with her music and trademark hip action

The rain stopped on a dreary Wednesday night, Oct. 20, just in time for a mostly Latino American audience to gather for a sold-out concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl, where one of the most polite and respectful audiences in recent memory packed the house for Shakira.

Nearly every seat was filled from long before the show began until the band’s final bows. The usual social scene at the concession stands below was nonexistent as the Latin bombshell literally shook the night away.

Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoli, 32, is one of the most successful Latina singing stars of all time, second only to Gloria Estefan in record sales. The gorgeous little bombshell hip-shaker is the pride of Colombia, the biggest pop act to ever emerge from that region.

Shakira recorded her first music at age 13, but she had perfected her hypnotic dance style even earlier. At age 4, when her father took her to a Middle Eastern restaurant, she became hypnotized by the music and local belly dancer, and soon was doing her own version — to the delight and applause of customers. The award-winning artist, already an established star in Latin countries, became an international sensation after the release her 1998 album, ¿Dónde Están Los Ladrones?

Her new world tour made a stop in Santa Barbara in support of her latest album, She Wolf. The massive stage boasted a huge panoramic screen showing high-definition video, fast becoming a staple among the biggest touring concerts. The stage also featured a giant catwalk, out into the Bowl’s general admission area, taking up half the section.

Shakira emerged from a side entrance in the middle of the crowd, followed by a single spotlight and an army of security. She strolled through the aisles wearing a red hooded gown, appropriate for the rainy night. She sang a soft solo tune, engaging fans as she made her way to the catwalk. As she walked up onto the catwalk, the crowd roared with excitement.

Then the lights went dark and her band exploded into a Latin rock crescendo of sound. Shakira tore off her gown, revealing a shimmering gold top, sexy black leather pants and some of the most famous abs in the music business. She began to shake her hips in her trademark dancing style, and continued to do so through most of her 90-minute set.

Sprinting about the huge stage, she sang and danced with an ever present smile, like a gleeful teenager. The sensual singer exuded an irresistible sexuality at every tune. Unlike many of the pop stars of late, her sexual allure seems a natural extension of her talent and beauty.

She spoke English between songs, but began querying the crowd early on in Spanish. When she received an enthusiastic response in her own language, she slowly began to replace her English dialogue with more and more in her native tongue. This seemed to delight the crowd, which hung on her every reference.

Her massive rock show exploded in a multimedia extravaganza on par with a Muse or U2 arena rock show. Laurie Anderson, one of the pioneers of multimedia live performances who had played the night before at UCSB, probably would have been proud of her use of multimedia to create a show larger than life.

While the massive video screen split and molded layers of live and recorded video, the huge light trusses pneumatically morphed into different shapes, creating ever-changing environments on stage. In what was probably the loudest and most musically relevant concert, in terms of current commercial success, in recent memory at the Bowl, Shakira mesmerized her fans with her performance. The show ebbed and flowed like a full-moon high tide, with thunderous explosions of her biggest hits punctuated by quiet, crooning moments showing the depth of her sound.

Although strong Latin rhythms run throughout her music, Shakira has adapted a smorgasbord of world music into a unique sound. During the performance of her new single, “Gypsy,” she danced in that traditional style surrounded on the catwalk by her musicians playing acoustic instruments. She later donned a belly dance outfit for her most exotic and well-known dancing routine. The video screen lit up with images at another time with African children expressing their dreams and desires for a future career.

Then she exploded into her hit song “Waka Waka” (“This Time for Africa”), which became a huge worldwide hit after being named the official 2010 FIFA World Cup song. She sang and danced with a pair of dancers before being joined by an army of charity volunteers. Shakira has been an active philanthropist much of her life, sponsoring countless fundraising events, mostly for children.

Finally, appearing for her encore and biggest English language hit “Hips Don’t Lie,” the sexy singer appeared nearly exhausted, but she manged to smile her way through the final routine — with an adoring crowd on its feet and hanging on every moment of her performance. What greater tribute can an audience give a performer than to stay transfixed in their seats until the final note of the encore?

Viva Shakira! Viva Santa Barbara!

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor.

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