Viva Colombia!

Could Shakira end the economic slump?

Blame Ayden. Even after three hot teenage girls plied him with food and gas money, the nineteen-year-old MDCC student took his time driving from the school's Kendall campus to Spec's records in Miami Beach. Now Bettsy, Linda, and Sandra are stuck on the wrong side of Ocean Drive at the very end of the line, practically on the sand, with hundreds of bodies between them and their idol, Shakira. Any minute now the 24-year old Colombian rockera with long blond hair extensions will arrive to sign copies of her crossover bid released today, November 13: the bilingual Laundry Service.

Already the golden Shakira-like locks framing the pretty face of seventeen-year-old Colombian-American Linda are going limp, but the prospect of hours under the hot sun has hardly fizzled the girls' enthusiasm. Linda's Cuban-American friend Sandra explains, "She's one of the few women singing rock en español; she's not one among many." Bettsy, an eighteen-year-old Nica with dusky skin and a dark ponytail, agrees: "I'm really proud of her for making a CD in English. When she was on TRL, Carson Daly told her that she could be the next Madonna."

When middle-age Milwaukee-resident Mike Coyle stumbles into the autograph line in his swimming trunks, his observation that Shakira "looks like Britney Spears" is met with vociferous boos.

Fans are subscribing to Shakira's Laundry Service whenever, wherever
Fans are subscribing to Shakira's Laundry Service whenever, wherever
Fans are subscribing to Shakira's Laundry Service whenever, wherever
Fans are subscribing to Shakira's Laundry Service whenever, wherever
Fans are subscribing to Shakira's Laundry Service whenever, wherever
Fans are subscribing to Shakira's Laundry Service whenever, wherever
Fans are subscribing to Shakira's Laundry Service whenever, wherever
Fans are subscribing to Shakira's Laundry Service whenever, wherever
Fans are subscribing to Shakira's Laundry Service whenever, wherever
Fans are subscribing to Shakira's Laundry Service whenever, wherever

In fact Laundry Service is outselling Madonna's Greatest Hits -- Volume 2, released the same day. Billboard.com observes with some surprise that Shakira is also outselling the latest from country giant Garth Brooks. The bottle-blonde from Barranquilla is even outsellingBritney, released a week earlier. "The sales have been ridiculous," asserts Ash, a clerk at a tiny Spec's outpost in Kendall who reports having moved 400 copies within 48 hours of the record's release. Could that just be the high Colombian concentration in Southwest Miami-Dade? "This is the number-one-selling album in the country," he points out. "Miami isn't doing that alone."

Indeed sixteen-year-old Kentucky thoroughbred Lynn prevailed upon her mother to postpone the family's drive home so that she and her ten-year-old sister Cara could get an autograph. Uncomprehending furrows form beneath Lynn's natural flaxen bangs when asked if she had ever heard of Shakira before coming to Miami for vacation. "I like her song “Whenever,'" she replies as she would about any pop song made in the USA. "I think it's cool how she belly-dances." Humoring the reporter, Mom adds with a twang: "You hear her more down here; but she is played [in Kentucky] sometimes."

If Shakira is simply the latest pop sensation for TRL viewers, many hard-core fans see her as a cultural institution, an affirmation of a troubled country or continent. "She is the expression of the people," says 30-year-old Venezuelan fan Luis Quevedo grandly. Caleño Carlos kept his U.S.-born nine- to eleven-year-old daughters and nieces out of school so they could "learn about their culture." Twenty-eight-year-old Marcela joined her daughter, sister, and niece in making a sign to let the singer know "Colombia appreciates you." Vanessa brought five-month-old Sebastian, she says, "to take a photo with Shakira, so that he will know his roots." Eight-months-pregnant Betty wants to be able to tell her daughter that she met the star once the child is old enough to understand. Another fan, Jackie, brought along her three-month-old Westie. "I want Shakira to see my puppy," she shrugs.

José, a 37-year-old handyman who remembers Shakira from when she lived in the Sea Coast Towers where he worked, sums up the singer's contributions to both worlds: "She preserves Colombian culture and adds to American culture, making it richer." Alfredo Rojas, a 30-year-old musician from New York in town for a project with Julio Iglesias, Jr., is not afraid to admit less noble reasons for rolling out of bed to secure his place in line. "The shape of her body motivated me for an early rise," he snickers.


For all the excitement, Shakira's in-store appearance did not show up on Tara Gilani's "The Trend Tracker" on NBC 6 (WTVJ). With much less patience than the fan club filing along Fifth Street, the media were herded along Collins Avenue, awaiting the opportunity to catch the Colombian on camera. Gilani banked her evening segment on the belief that she had a red-carpet interview, but that was not to be.

"We can guarantee you one question on the red carpet," offers a publicist.

"Not acceptable," snaps Gilani, losing her cool in her three-quarter-length black suede jacket. "If we're not that important to Shakira," she explains later, "I guess she's not that important to our broadcast."

Gilani stormed back to the studio in Miramar, her segment blown, leaving the rest of the media wishing they had followed her. Shakira ran late, delaying the red-carpet moment, then when she did arrive ... a mad rush at the press door. A deep-voiced woman shoved the camera crews back onto the sidewalk, slamming the door with the disheartening salvo: "Goodbye and goodnight."

Left out in the heat, a stringer from a daily in Puerto Rico composed a new version of Shakira's latest hit: "Interviews? Whenever, Wherever." Whatever.

 
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