One of Colombia’s best loved exports is a recording superstar born in 1977 who has been in the limelight since she was only 13.

The precocious and beautiful Shakira (nee Shakira Ripoll) was playing guitar and writing songs as a child. Her first album was released when she was only 14. Shakira shifted gears, much like Janet Jackson had done a generation earlier, and appeared on a popular Colombia soap opera.

After her acting stint and already an entertainment pro at 18, she began releasing one monster hit after another that stormed the Latin charts. Along the way she found time to be romantically linked to the Argentinean president’s son, record MTV’s first Spanish Unplugged album and win the 2000 Best Latin Recording Grammy.

Shakira, who reportedly enjoys writing lyrics as much as performing, told Rolling Stone, “I notice myself sometimes writing in English without even thinking about it. I let a melody or a sentence suggest in which language I would have to write that song.” That crossover to English has led to huge success for Shakira in North America.

After being named a UN Goodwill Ambassador, the same role held by Angelina Jolie and other international superstars, Shakira became a Pepsi spokesperson, won multiple Latin Grammys and saw La Tortura, the lead single from Fijacion Oral, top Billboard Hot Latin Song charts for 25 non-consecutive weeks.

Now the music world all wants to be a party of the Shakira party. Emilio Estefan, Gloria’s husband and one of the driving forces behind Miami Sound Machine, has signed her while Latin superstar Gustavo Cerati and Carlos Santana have played on her most recent singles. Even American Idol brought Shakira and touring partner Wyclef Jean on to their hit show in 2006, where the pair performed a sizzling version of Hips Don’t Lie.

With AIDS awareness and education being Shakira’s primary goals as a UN ambassador, listeners are hearing more than the singer’s pumping beats. She has already taped one public service announcement for the United Nations and intends to continue her work wherever her music takes her. And in the mid 2000s, speaking Spanish was not a prerequisite to being surrounded by Shakira’s songs.

–G. Bounacos