Tuesday 2 March 2010

Living in a Bilingual World (The One About 'La Mujer Lobo')

She might currently be in disguise 'Coming out, coming out, coming out' and the talk of lycanthropy might slightly confuse listeners at first, but when it comes to raising awareness of the Spanish language the Colombian pop singer Shakira rightly deserves the kudos she's earned.

It turns out that a record number of students will have the option of doing Spanish GCSE this year, the result of more secondary schools teaching the romance language as opposed to, for instance, German. And the key to that switch? A Barranquilla-born popstress whose introduction to performing was via a group of belly dancers at a Middle eastern restaurant.

But it's not just Shakira who has caused this volte-face. Over the last decade Spain has gone from being just a holiday destination to becoming permanent residence for many British people. And as the government from that Iberian country continues to clamp down on illegal settlements (villas, chalets and the like), the newly arrived sons and daughters of Albion have had to pull up their socks and learn the language in order to fit in quickly.

Another factor is students' gap year. Many youngsters prefer to volunteer overseas before starting university. And Latin America features highly on their list.

However, this explanation is not meant to take the gloss off Shakira's achievement. She has made a difference. And no, I'm not stupid. It's the Colombian singer who has made Spanish popular by singing in English. For some reason 'Una loba en el armario/Tiene ganas de salir/Deja que se coma el barrio/Antes de irte a dormir' doesn't sound as cool as the version in English. And also, let's not forget one of the reasons why la Colombianita has captured the imagination of teenagers and adults alike: she is one of pop's pinups (albeit with a good voice, as demonstrated in the clip below) whose 'hips don't lie' and who is lucky 'that my breasts are small and humble/So you don't confuse them with mountains'. Still, a victory for the bilingual world. I await Germany's response. Wölfin, wo sind Sie, bitte?

About the clip tonight: This song is a classic in the Ibero-Latin Diaspora originally written and performed by the Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez. In this video you have the Argentinian Mercedes Sosa, who sadly died last year (read my tribute to her here) and our new Ambassadress of the Spanish language. Enjoy.

Copyright 2010

Next Post: 'Danton (Review)', to be published on Thursday 4th March at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. Well hurray for Shakira ("Shakira, Shakira") then if she is encouraging we little Englanders ("Britainers" will never have the same ring to it) to venture forth into bilingualism.
    I made the mistake of learning Spainish and Italian at the same time, and twenty years later all that remains is Spatalian.

  2. So well matched was the timbre of Shakira and Mercedes Sosa’s voices that at times I was not sure who was singing. If I closed my eyes, Shakira’s voice made me think I was listening to a younger Mercedes Sosa. I know this was not the subject of your post, but given my own Saturday post about Mercedes Sosa, I couldn’t resist. As for living in a bilingual world, in my view, the increasing permeability of cultural boundaries makes for an ever more interesting world. It would be nice if in the process we all got along better. There is always hope, though.

  3. It is incredible how much the two sound alike! Both have the rich mezzo soprano voices, I'm especially partial to. Nice.

  4. Thank you for this wonderful sample of great music!

    Speaking another language is a great beginning, but to truly understand the difference in culture one must also have lived them.
    Knowing the vocabulary only is not enough where a single word can evoke entirely different associations.

  5. What a jewel this clip is! I enjoyed it very much. I have to say, I am not particularly fond of Shakira's music, but I agree with you: if her pop helps Latin-American culture to spread, then kudos for her.

    By the way, is Mercedes Sosa good spirit haunting the blogosphere? My latest post is based on one of her songs as well.

  6. The States is lagging in offering a second language. You have to wait until you are in Middle school even High School to start learning a new language. My husband said, "it's because Americans can afford to be lazy." I don't know if I agree with him, but if the school system implemented a second language early in a child's education, it would be most beneficial to be more tolerant and accepting of "immigrants".

  7. More Spanish! What could be better? Living in a bilingual world, tambien!

  8. Nice to see Shakira with some clothes on! Last time I saw her on TV she was in a cage wearing virtually nothing...not sure what language that's promoting. She is a beauty though, can't deny that.

    Such a great song this one. I'd only heard Silvio doing it (listened to a lot of Silvio back when I lived in Spain in the '80s).


  9. Ahh, I miss Mercedes. You think Shakira has a good voice? It's quirky and distinctive at best. I think her songwriting and dance skills are better but since she's drawn interest in Espanol, it doesn't matter. More Spanish speakers is always a good thing!

  10. Buenos días, querido cubano.

    There was an unmistakable resemblance in the singing voice of both performers.
    And while I'm a fan of Shakira's unparalleled talent, I hate to admit I was not familiar with Mercedes Sosa (running and hiding).

    Magnífico talento en ambos.

  11. I met Shakira whilst doing a marketing campaign in a past life, I've since been a fan. Truly it matters not, whom or what gets our young people thinking, growing and absorbing culture-it's just important that they do. That being said, it was The Ortiz Brothers who moved into my NYC neighborhood (and pubescent heart) which led me on my romance...(the languages too) quest! Great post!

  12. i agree with others, great clip.

    and as you say, kudos to her. t.allen-mercado summed it up nicely.

  13. a thought provoking post.

    thank you

    best wishes

  14. Hello London,
    Really enjoyed the music - I have not heard Shakira sing anything other than pop and 'Obtener Un Si' which might also be pop but isn't her usual stuff and is, I think, the perfect music for driving at nightfall along the corniche to Nice.

    I love her voice and although it might partly be to luck and marketing that she owes her success, an awful lot is because she does what she does so well.

  15. Many thanks to you all for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

  16. I went to see her on her first tour ever when she only had one CD out and ever since I've loved her music... yay for latin women!

  17. Terrific clip..thanks..I'm hopeless when it comes to more than my meager language..studied Spanish is school(language was compulsory), had a Cubano son-in-law, and no, nothing helped..it's me!! But music crosses all borders!!

  18. Lovely duet!

    Good to hear that Spanish is gaining more students in the UK, even through a popstar.

    My son is studying Spanish. He’s 1/8 Chilean. One day he’ll translate for us when we visit my husband’s cousins in Chile.

  19. Many thanks for your kind feedback.

    Greetings from London.

  20. Brava for Shikira. I am impressed and happy
    when a well-known person increases the
    cultural revolution. I feel more Americans
    should value being bi-lingual.



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