August 16-22, 2006

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Blowing Smoke: Shakira celebrates her sold-out Saturday night in a blaze of glory.

Two of Hearts

A look behind the Colombian-Haitian connection that is Shakira and Wyclef Jean

By Bill Forman

WYCLEF JEAN once opened an album with a skit in which he tries to get record exec Tommy Mottola excited about his new record. The joke, of course, is that Mottola (or, rather, whoever's playing the industry mogul) tells him not to call back until he's finished another Fugees album. Six years later, and a full decade after the Fugees broke up, Wyclef still hasn't delivered that reunion album, but he may well be having the last laugh. "Hips Don't Lie," his duet with Colombian export superstar Shakira, is clearly the single of the summer. As infectious as it is ubiquitous, the song brings out the best in both artists and gives their summer tour together (which comes to San Jose's HP Pavilion Aug. 19 and 21), an event status that transcends what either would likely generate on their own.

The video is no slouch either, having burned its way into the flat screens and dilated pupils of the American public, thanks in no small part to Shakira's exceedingly truthful hips. (Extra points also go to the cute kid doppelg”ngers that mimic Wyclef and Shakira's choreography while sporting ceremonial skull masks.) Interestingly, the single itself was already in heavy radio rotation for months before it finally turned up on iTunes and on a rereleased version of Shakira's last album. In its absence, Apple began selling a reissue of "Dance Like This," the relatively obscure 2004 Wyclef track that would take on a new life as the basis for "Hips Don't Lie." Featuring vocalist Claudette Ortiz, it has much the same arrangement, right down to the catchy opening and closing horn part lifted from Puerto Rican singer Jerry Rivera's salsa hit "Amores Como El Nuestro." So why haven't you heard of the Wyclef song? Possibly because of the album it came out on: the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.

All of which raises the question: Can a single song—even if it is the hip-shaking hit of the summer—justify two nights at the Pavilion? That may depend on the degree to which Shakira and Wyclef are actually collaborating on this tour. The most probable scenario: Wyclef as opening act and Shakira as the main event, followed by the two together onstage for a quick finale.

But even if that does turn out to be the extent of their collaboration, the evening should still offer much that's worthwhile. Wyclef's musical accomplishments in between the Fugees and Shakira have definitely been substantial, if not as high profile. His duet with Mary J. Blige ("911") was an unsung masterpiece, while Wyclef's "Diallo, Diallo," about the unarmed immigrant who was shot 41 times by New York City cops, is arguably the most compelling song about police brutality since Linton Kwesi Johnson's "Sonny's Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem)." From his wildly eclectic indie label "Haitian album" (Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101) to the pop perfection of "If I Was President," Wyclef wears the roles of cultural, political and musical ambassador as comfortably as any artist since Bob Marley.

And Shakira? Well she's been branching out of late as well. The closing track on last year's all-English Oral Fixation II is called "Timor." And while the 29-year-old singer's ode to the historically embattled Southeast Asian country may not be as poetic as Robert Wyatt's song of the same name, what other pop artists today would concern themselves with the Timorese? Now if Shakira would just get rid of that weird Alanis Morissette vocal tic (which only seems to come out when she sings in English) and maybe lay off the vocoder a bit, she'd have the makings of a perfect pop star. In the meantime, her hits and hips appear to be working just fine.

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