Donde estan los ladrones?

Sony Discos

At first glance, almost everything about Colombian pop sensation Shakira seems annoying. A child star who recorded her first album 10 years ago, she’s enlisted Miami schlock machine backing from Emilio and Gloria Estefan, placed Day-Glo ribbons in her hair, and blatantly copped Alanis Morissette’s trilling vocal style. As a result, her new Donde estan los la drones? has put the Vulcan death grip on the top of the Billboard Latin charts. Still, at a time when Latin pop is dominated by Enrique Iglesias and Police-clones Maná, Shakira is arguably downright avant-garde.

Take the opening lines from “Ciega, sorda, muda” (Blind, Deaf, and Dumb): “My argument / And methodology is over / Every part of your anatomy / Appears in front of me.” Suddenly Shakira sounds like she likes her sex with a side of semiotics. Instead of imposing some lame Jon Secada aesthetic on her, Emilio Estefan lets Shakira, listed as “artistic producer,” ply her mariachi-horns cum tropical–Fleetwood Mac bounce to kick the songs into reasonable listenability. So what if “No creo”‘s listing of Marx, Sartre, and New Age guru Brian Weiss sounds suspiciously like John Lennon’s “Time is a concept by which we measure pain”—she sings it like she owns the idea of self-reflection.

Shakira’s bicultural upbringing—born and raised in coastal Colombia to a Lebanese father—gives her an ironic edge. The album’s title—Where Are the Thieves?—refers to the theft of all the sheet music for a CD’s worth of songs—the ones here are what she came up with starting from scratch. Donde estan los ladrones? is ambivalent about the winners and losers in Colombia, a society that has endured a torturous legacy of corruption despite being at the root of democracy in Latin America. But if transcending her roots to become a player in Miami necessitates some concessions to not-ready-for-salsa listeners, a cleverly embedded poetry still manages to peek through in Shakira’s worldview.