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Shakira, Wembley Arena, London

The screaming teenage Colombian girls are one clue to what an eccentric global phenomenon Shakira is. She has so far penetrated mainstream British consciousness only with the impish lyric of her big 2001 hit "Whenever, Wherever" about her "small and humble breasts". But 14 of her 27 million album sales were from four earlier Spanish-language LPs. A performer since she belly-danced in public aged four, and a recording star since she was 13, she has creative control as her own writer-producer that exceeds even Madonna's, and separates her from moulded, helpless superstars such as Britney. That explains the unpredictable, organic feel of tonight's show, which is clearly the creation of an artist, not a corporation.

Shakira comes on rolling and thrusting her low-trousered hips. A natural dancer's physicality powers her performance, but the tawdry self-exploitation of most of her female rivals is dodged. Largely Spanish lyrics tumble out, and, tossing about her long blond mane, she is willing to look a tousled mess. Song and performance styles twist with similar abandon. She plays glittery silver guitar on "Don't Bother" and grabs a harmonica for "Te Dejo Madrid" (trilingual, she learnt her ornate English from Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen albums). Classical piano and ballet play on the screens when she changes into a billowing, bat-winged red dress for "No", more Kate Bush than Beyoncé. Her fans dance, holler Spanish and wave Colombian flags.

"Whenever, Wherever" is given the full treatment. Chittering synths, treated guitars and horror-score rattles overload the intro with ideas, before Arabian music, Pink Floyd riffs and pumping Europop accompany her most sultry belly-dancing yet. Her boundless, open-hearted physicality, 100 shows into this tour, rejects stiffly choreographed pop-star routine. She runs beside the crowd, shaking hands and offering the mic. Twin drummers thunder in as she regains the stage - a high-showbiz moment.

Despite Shakira's musical variations, from small acoustic combos to piano ballads, her sound's unlikely and eventually grating heart is synth-heavy Eighties rock. No single element of what she does is hip, but the unconventional combinations and uncensored delivery keep her surprising. Most importantly, such as when the Gypsy violins and New-Wave keyboards reach a wild, pounding finish on her encore, "Ojos Asi", this is living, breathing music. The pop industry has not yet tamed Shakira into product.

Posted at 03/24/2007. Original article can be found here.

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