In October 2017, Latin pop superstar Shakira was wrapping up five months of arduous rehearsals in preparation for her ‘El Dorado’ world tour when she suddenly felt a bit hoarse. A few days later, Shakira’s opening show in Cologne, Germany, was cancelled on advice of her doctors, who diagnosed her with strained vocal chords.
But what was thought to be a minor affliction requiring a few days’ rest would turn out to be something far worse – the singer had a vascular lesion, the sort of vocal injury that could call time on an entire career. And now, in an exclusive interview with NME, Shakira confides that what followed “was the most difficult moment not just in my career, but my life.”
We’re speaking in advance of a huge worldwide cinema event on November 13 marking the release of – spoiler alert – Shakira in Concert: El Dorado World Tour, a highly enjoyable concert-cum-documentary of the world tour, which was rescheduled for 2018.
Featuring behind-the-scenes footage and a celebratory romp through the hits and career-high points of nearly 30 years in the music business, the film is a winning tribute to the tour-that-nearly-wasn’t.
During our conversation, the 42-year-old speaks with refreshing honesty of the despair that plagued her time in absence, but also her joy to be back. And that’s not all. We also discuss getting props from Green Day, Super Bowl 2020 and how technology has helped clear away “the huge prejudice” she once faced as a female Latin artist.
Shakira in Concert: El Dorado World Tour documents your triumphant return following your recovery from a vascular lesion. Was the injury the darkest moment of your career?
“Temporarily losing my voice was the most difficult moment not just in my career, but my life. I mean, I knew that someday I would lose my youth or my beauty or certain friends, but I never thought I would lose my voice. It is something so inherent to my nature. It is like my skin and my identity. When it wasn’t there it was really hard to cope with.”
How did you cope with the loss?
“There were times when I couldn’t even get out of bed. That was a really dark moment in my life. I didn’t feel joy again until I got my voice back. When my voice was back and I was back onstage, I felt so much gratitude. That made the [‘El Dorado’] tour different from anything else and all the more special, I think. Every night on stage was a gift and a miracle.”
“There were times when I couldn’t even get out of bed. I didn’t feel joy again until I got my voice back”
Did you learn something about yourself during the time you were out?
“I learned that I had probably taken my career and everything I had achieved for granted. I also learned that I love what I do. I love singing. It really is a gift that life has given me. One of the things that makes me happiest in the world is to share that with my fans. I think I have the best fans that an artist can have – a friendship that is bulletproof. I think that tour was a homage to that friendship.”
Did the experience of losing your voice affect your creative process?
“When I lost my voice I just wanted to write really angry poetry. That’s all I could write. Everything I wrote was angry prose. I don’t even think I can share it.”
Unless you go down a death metal route, maybe?
“[Laughs] Exactly! I’ll switch genres!”
Recently, you shared a clip from the studio performing ‘Basket Case’ with your producer. It was then shared by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. How did it feel getting the thumbs up?
“I love Green Day! I’m a huge fan. I was humbled. I loved it. I mean, how awesome is that?!”
You’re the queen of collaborations. Could there be a Green Day collaboration could be on the cards?
“[Emphatic] I’m down. I’m down for that! I don’t know if they are, but I am!”
How much progress have you made in writing the next record?
“I’m in and out of the studio. I’m spending a lot of time in there, but I’m preparing for two important events. One is the Davis Cup, where I’m performing at the closing ceremony. And then I’m going to be at Super Bowl. It’s going to happen on my birthday, so that’s going to be pretty awesome too!”
In relation to the Super Bowl, you said to Zane Lowe on his Beats 1 show: “I think this is going to be an event to celebrate Latin culture and the importance of women also in the industry.” Over the course of your career has the music industry improved in how it treats female artists from a Latin background?
“I’ve seen a big improvement but, you know, I’ve been around for a bit [laughs]. When I started out in Colombia, there wasn’t any pop scene for a local artist like me. There was no receptivity. Only for international artists. It was really tough. I was just a kid starting out with big dreams. I wanted to make great productions and expensive videos and there was not only no budget, but no interest. So it was really hard.
“I had to overcome huge prejudice early in my career”
“Later on, when I was trying to cross over into the American and English markets, I was still making my weird blend — this fusion that brings in elements from different cultures such as Middle Eastern and Latin music — and trying to get my music promoted on America and English radio. I had to do a lot of convincing to get songs such as ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ on the radio or even to publish that music. I really had to overcome huge obstacles and huge prejudice. I think that technology has changed things quite a bit now though.”
Technology has made things easier for Latin artists?
“Yes, because people having access to your music doesn’t depend on those old gatekeepers; those people who [used to] decide what music could and couldn’t get played on the radio. People themselves decide now. Social media and digital platforms are so powerful. They have made music much more democratic.”
When you say about the resistance you initially felt, was that over Latin culture or you being a woman?
“Probably a combination of both. I think people had been ready for music that brings influences from other cultures but there were some people [before] who didn’t make it accessible; people who were in charge of radio programming and things like that.
“Now, with digital platforms, people are the boss of what they want to listen to. I think that is why Spanish music, and Latin music in general, is going through a very good moment. There’s a lot more receptivity that wasn’t there before. It’s to our great benefit. At least the artists out there that are so talented don’t have to have the [same] battles that I had to have at the start of my career.”
Shakira in Concert: El Dorado World Tour is in cinemas worldwide on 13 November via Trafalgar Releasing. Find your local cinema at shakira.film.