was born February 2, 1977, in Barranquilla, Colombia, into a poor family. Her mother was a native Colombian and her father was of Lebanese descent, and so as a child Shakira soaked up music from both cultures; she also listened heavily to English-language rock & roll, listing her favorite bands in later interviews as Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Police, the Cure, and Nirvana. Shakira wrote her first song at age eight, began entering (and winning) talent competitions at age ten, and started learning the guitar at age 11; one story runs that around this age, she was kicked out of her school choir for singing too forcefully.
When Shakira returned to recording in 1995, she asserted more control over the direction of her music, and worked more rock & roll rhythms -- as well as occasional Arabic tinges -- into her Latin pop material. The first results were Pies Descalzos (Bare Feet), which was initially released in 1995; a slow seller at first, the album gradually caught on thanks to the rock-tinged single "Estoy Aqui," which became a hit all over Latin America, as well as Spain. After that breakthrough, Pies Descalzos just kept spinning off singles: "D?nde Est?s Coraz?n?," "Antolog?a," "Pienso en Ti," "Un Poco de Amor," "Se Quiere, Se Mata." The album hit number one in eight different countries and eventually went platinum in the U.S. as well; Shakira toured for nearly two years promoting it (she finally left El Oasis in 1997).
Seeking to build on her success, Shakira signed Emilio Estefan -- Gloria's husband and a highly successful music-biz insider -- as her manager and producer. The move paid off when her follow-up album, 1998's D?nde Est?n los Ladrones? (Where Are the Thieves?), became an even bigger worldwide hit than its predecessor. What was more, it cracked the lucrative U.S. market wide open, spending 11 weeks at number one on Billboard's Latin album chart and producing two U.S. number ones (on the Latin chart) with "Ciega, Sordomuda" and "Tu." The album's signature track, however, was the worldwide hit "Ojos As?," her most explicit nod yet to the Arabic music she'd picked up from her father (not to mention its latent belly-dancing connotations). D?nde Est?n los Ladrones? was also the most effective presentation yet of Shakira's strong-willed persona; her self-analysis made her even more popular among female fans, while her anger over love gone wrong drew comparisons to Alanis Morissette.
Mainstream pop stardom beckoned. Shakira dyed her long brown hair blonde, romanced Antonio de la Rua (son of the former president of Argentina), and went to work on her first (mostly) English-language album, Laundry Service. The single/video "Whenever, Wherever" was released in advance of the album in late 2001, and made her a star in the English-speaking world almost overnight. Laundry Service entered the American pop charts at number three, and "Whenever, Wherever" climbed into the Top Ten of the singles chart, peaking at number six. The follow-up "Underneath Your Clothes" also hit the Top Ten, halting at number nine; less than a year after its release, Laundry Service had gone triple platinum. Reviews of Laundry Service were divided as to the effectiveness of Shakira's English lyrics, but nearly all agreed on her unique poetic imagery.