The world's population of frogs, toads, and other amphibians is disappearing, according to a study released two weeks ago in the journal Nature. Although wart-haters might breathe a sigh of relief, the decline of our slimy friends could signal disaster for us all. Scientists claim herptile health is a good indicator of the planet's well-being. As the newt and the salamander go, so goes the environment.
Colombian singer songwriter Shakira's Amphibious Tour 2000 could not come at a more critical moment. The 23-year-old pop star, known for her spectacular shows, makes water and earth the principal scenographic elements of her current concerts. Wet and dry, the precocious songstress wends her way through Latin America -- where the crisis is particularly grave, according to Froglog, the newsletter of the Declining Amphibians Population Taskforce -- from Santiago to Bogotá; from Mexico City to Miami.
Granted, Shakira's songs tend more toward fairy-tale romance than environmental wake-up call. In her first hit, "Estoy Aqui" ("I'm Here," 1996), the singer confesses, à la Sleeping Beauty, that she will wait 1000 years for her wounded lover to return to her. In 1998's "Ciega Sordomuda" ("Blind, Deaf-mute"), love robs the songstress of her vital functions just as it did the Little Mermaid. Her career itself might be considered a Cinderella story. Although she began to perform at age four in her native Barranquilla and had already begun to release albums in Colombia in her early teens, her music took off internationally when she set her dainty U.S. debut, Pies Descalzos (Bare Feet, 1996), in the hands of producer Emilio Estefan, Jr.
Her closest amphibian affinity might lie precisely in her status as an Estefan Enterprises survivor. Amphibious Tour 2000 demonstrates Shakira's incredible ability to automize -- to grow back body parts cast off in struggle -- after her much-publicized break with the powerful star-making machine. During a recent press conference, she denied any personality clash behind the separation, remarking: "[Estefan] has the merit of being a producer who makes many artists' dreams come true, and has a team that works to make them popular. For that reason artists come to him to submit themselves to this process." The independent-minded musician did not want to limit herself to the restricted habitat of musical target-marketing. "I'm completely involved," she says of her role as an artist, "and I have total control over every step I take."
Estefan remains listed as executive producer on the new Shakira MTV Unplugged album, but he shares credit with Tim Mitchell and Shakira herself. A recent profile of her by Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez reprinted in Spanish-language Vogue depicts the ambitious star running herself ragged as she oversees all details of production in both her recordings and her live performances. The results sound good. Shakira penned the lyrics to all eleven Unplugged tracks and composed or co-composed all the music. Many of the tunes sound better in these inventive new arrangements than in their original versions. The ranchera version of "Blind, Deaf-mute," with Miami's own Mariachi Mora-Arraiga, invites listeners to down a shot or two of tequila. "I'm Here" starts out with an Eighties Buggles-inspired sound, then veers into Sixties-style psychedelia. A full complement of Middle Eastern musicians on the rousing closing track "Eyes Like That," including local percussionist Myriam Eli, dispels any notion that acoustic means folksy
The Amphibious Tour 2000 might not save the horny toad, but Shakira's transformations across diverse musical spheres will put fans in her element.