As one of the music world's biggest stars. Shakira has sold more than 50 million records, sells out stadiums from continent to continent and is among today's most active humanitarians. You'd be hard-pressed to find a corner of the planet where she isn't recognized, especially after her recent contributions to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Her performance of the tournament’s official song, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” during the official kick-off concert and again at the closing ceremony in Johannesburg was a testament to Shakira’s international reach not only as a musician but also as an icon.
“It was such an honor to be part of a global event. I had the most amazing time,” she says. “Everywhere I went I met such beautiful people who welcomed me to their country. I never felt so much love in one month.” She says the experience could only have been better if her native Colombia had qualified.
“That it took place in Africa was special. I felt connected to people of all cultures. In many ways, ‘Waka Waka’ was an injection of joy in my life. The song is about optimism.”
This month, Shakira’s preparing to release a new album and her worldwide tour is well under way. But don’t think that all the energy and effort she puts out are merely in the name of promoting her brand. For Shakira, it’s not just about her career: It’s about using her star power to bring attention to the plight of the young and poor.
Her tireless work on behalf of children, particularly in developing parts of the world, is more personal than most people realize. As a little girl in Barranquilla, Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll saw her father forced to declare bankruptcy. Her family had to sell all its possessions, leaving Shakira utterly distraught.
“It was the end of the world for me. But then my father showed me that things could be worse.” She vividly recalls seeing the slums, where orphans lived on the streets. “It opened my eyes, and it made me want to go out and succeed as an artist so I could come back and help these kids.”
At 18, Shakira—whose name means “thankful” in Arabic—set up her Barefoot Foundation, which builds schools for children all over Colombia. More recently she helped found and promote the ALAS Foundation (Fundacion América Latina en Acción Solidaria), which lobbies governments to commit to early childhood development programs across Latin America through educational, healthcare and nutritional platforms.
“It’s important to understand the difference education makes,” she explains. “We have seen its transformational power. Education should be a birthright. That’s my biggest focus.”
Shakira’s influence as a humanitarian has helped raise a significant amount of money. In 2008 she received a $200 million commitment from Carlos Slim Helu, Mexico’s billionaire telecom tycoon, and Howard Buffett, son of Warren, to donate to early childhood development initiatives in Latin America. Along with her ability to generate funds, she also raises awareness as a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador. Naturally, such fervent activism brings with it speculation about possible political aspirations.
“I’m always political in the sense that I’m committed to fighting for the young and the poor, and I will always use my role as an artist and an activist to lend my voice to people who don’t have one,” Shakira explains. “We should all take part in shaping the destiny of our world. But I will never take political office. It would actually limit me in many ways.“
All celebrities should use their fame in a positive way,” she adds. “I can use my music as a vehicle for promoting important issues much more efficiently than if I ran for political office.”
Shakira’s next album, Sale el Sol (The Sun Comes Out), is set to drop this fall. Following the success of last year’s English-language hit She Wolf, it will feature both Spanish and English lyrics, with a few merengue-infused pop songs as well as some that are rock-influenced and reminiscent of her early years.
“This album means so much to me,” she says. “As I worked on it, I was excited to reconnect with myself. It’s about the romantic inside me, about finding what’s missing in my life. I got back to my rocker side, but also my Latin side. I went to the Dominican Republic to listen to merengue, which I grew up dancing to. I wanted to capture that Caribbean vibe.”
Her world tour, which kicked off last month in the US, brought her to both Miami and Sunrise at the end of September. Naturally Miami is always a major stop for her professionally, but she also likes to hang out here and considers the city a home away from home.
“I love coming to Miami because it’s a real melting pot. And it’s hot, so people can wear little bits of clothing. I hate layers and coats,” she says. “I love Miami’s sense of space and the fact that you can always see the sky. It’s invigorating.”
Shakira spends much of her time in the Bahamian home she shares with longtime boyfriend Antonio de la Rúa, son of the former Argentine president. But for the rest of this year and into the next, she’ll be mostly on the road.
“I like being on stage more now,” she says. “I value the energy I feel when I hear the crowd singing back. Honestly, at this point in my life, I really do think my fans know me. They can tell when I’m feeling good or bad.”
And lately it’s been mostly good, as evidenced this past summer when she rocked the World Cup in her eye-catching Roberto Cavalli ensembles. You could see the joy all over her face, radiating through her smile. Asked if that was her biggest beauty secret, Shakira replies, “Of course—happiness is the best makeup you can have.”