Shakira, Dancing Like an Arab at the Super Bowl—“Hips don’t Lie”
By: John Mason/Arab America Contributing Writer
When you watch the Super Bowl this Sunday, February 2, be sure to look for the influence of Shakira’s Arab background on her music and dance. You may be surprised to hear distinctly Arab musical and dance rhythms in her performance. While she has absorbed her Lebanese Arab roots over time, Shakira now seems to embody that connection. And, while she is a thoroughly Latin woman, she is relying more and more on the influence of her father’s Arab background in her music. Shakira has had a link to Israel, of which some are critical, but she has not performed there and her one visit was in her role of UNICEF representative in support of children. Contributing writer, John Mason, highlights the Arab slice of her life.
Shakira’s Ties to the Arab World
Shakira’s grandparents were Lebanese immigrants to the U.S. and her father was born in New York. Her father moved to Barranquilla, Colombia in South America, where he married a Colombian, Nidia del Carmen Ripoli Torrado. Their only child, Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoli was born and raised in Barranquilla on February 2, 1977. In Spanish, a newborn takes her mother’s family name, in this case, Ripoli, as her family name and she may take the father’s as her second-to-last name. That name, Mebarak, means ‘blessed’ in Arabic, derived from barak, or blessing. Not to further complicate naming customs, the feature of this post, Shakira, gets her name from the Arabic term ‘thankful,’ which in Arabic derives from the term shukran, to be thankful or, simply, thanks.
There’s a story that when Shakira was only four, she accompanied her father to a Middle Eastern restaurant in Barranquilla, where she first heard Arab music. Specifically, she was enchanted by the rhythm of the drum used in traditional Arab music, the doumbek (or darbuka or tabla) and especially in the belly dance. The story goes that Shakira began to dance on the restaurant table. Shakira has suggested that a clear Arab, oriental influence is present in her breakthrough, world hit, Ojos Asi. Check out the YouTube version of this song to hear for yourself.
Her Unique Ability to Dance Like an Arab
She asserts that her father’s Lebanese-Syrian Arab background has influenced her dance movements, especially those that have a strong sense of the oriental dance (commonly known as the belly dance). Shakira has noted the importance of her sense of “mixed ethnicity,” saying “I am a fusion. That’s my persona. I’m a fusion between black and white, between pop and rock, between cultures – between my Lebanese father and my mother’s Spanish blood, the Colombian folklore and Arab dance…”
If the previews of Shakira’s Super Bowl performance hold forth, watch and listen for the Arab musical rhythms and her dance movements. They could well reflect the influence of the art known as Arab belly dancing, in particular to her father’s Lebanese roots. This is tied also to her youthful practice of learning this art by dancing barefoot, in the traditional manner, as a way of overcoming some sense of shyness. Shakira is especially proud of her hip-shaking movements, feeling this is a unique fusion of Arab and Latin dancing. She’s clearly overcome any sense of shyness!
Shakira—a Model of Goodwill to Children
Shakira for many years has been a proponent of children. As an only child, she had an upbringing that allowed her to experience the ups and downs of financial stability. Her dad had owned a jewelry store in Barranquilla that went belly up. The family’s return to a sense of prosperity was due to their daughter’s success as a singer, as an entertainer.
Her multi-millionaire wealth as a result of her spectacular success has meant that Shakira has been able to not only support her immediate family but also to help children in Colombia. But she has lent her name to the worldwide support of children in need. Her role as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador (UNICEF is the preeminent agency that supports the welfare of all the world’s children). In 2010 Shakira was awarded a United Nations medal for her role as a “true ambassador for children and young people, for quality education and social justice.”
Attempts to Politicize her Arab Roots
Because of her Arab roots, some have attempted to make an issue of Shakira’s link to Israel. In 2011, in her role as UNICEF Ambassador, she made a visit to Israel. This was during the Prime Minister’s 2011 presidential conference. Shakira is quoted as having of the trip, “education was the best way to achieve global stability and peace.” During that visit, she said that after meeting Israeli and Palestinian schoolchildren on a visit to Jerusalem, her purpose was “to share some of her experience working in the field of education through her charity The Barefoot Foundation.”
While efforts were made to attract Shakira to deliver a show to her fans in Israel, so far that has not happened. It was rumored in May 2018 that she would do a show in Israel, but these were squelched when no such agreement was made. Supporters of the boycott against Israel have taken credit for the announcement that Shakira would not perform in Israel. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement or BDS is a Palestinian-led campaign against Israel until it meets “Israel’s obligations under international law to withdraw from the occupied territories, removal of the separation barrier in the West Bank, full equality for Arab-Palestinians citizens of Israel and respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties.”
That is a mouthful of legalese, worthy as it is, and it’s not clear that Shakira’s absence from Israel as a performer is directly related to BDS. It remains to be seen how that question is settled.
In the meantime, enjoy Shakira at her half-time Super Bowl performance. Listen to those Arab musical and dance rhythms. And watch for those “Hips don’t Lie” moves!
“Bill Whitaker spends time with the Grammy-winner before her big show with Jennifer Lopez at February’s Super Bowl,” CBS, 60 Minutes, 1/20
“Colombian pop star, who has Lebanese grandparents, has visited in the past but never played here,” Times of Israel, 5/18
“Tour promoter says the Colombian-born singer was never scheduled to play a concert in Tel Aviv but hopes to schedule one in the future,” Times of Israel, 5/18
John Mason, who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi and the American University in Cairo, served on the United Nations staff in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively with USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries on socioeconomic and political development.
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