A little bit about me: I’m Hispanic. English was my second language, Spanish being my first. I grew up with my grandparents in a household where on Sundays Spanish was the only language spoken at the dinner table out of respect for our elders. English was spoken at our proper home with our parents and at school. Growing up I never listened to much Spanish music. The extent was Gloria Estefan and Willy Chirino. Everything else was secular pop music (which I still love, obvi).
The first CDs I purchased with my own money were Macy Gray’s On How Life Is and Shakira’s Donde Están Los Ladrones. I was late to the Shakira game. Shakira was already a superstar in Latin America after the release of her true “big label” debut, Pies Descalzos. Ladrones was really the tipping point into her true arrival into the music scene outside of the Latin American market.
Purchasing Ladrones was a huge moment for me. It was my first foray into Spanish/Latin music aside from Gloria Estefan, which Miami’s Cuban culture shoved down our throats (note: I do LOVE Gloria). Ladrones truly assisted in cultivating my appreciation for, and eventual love of the Spanish language. Ladrones also made me fall deeply in love with Shakira, and the love has ceased to exist to this day.
I remember hearing people say she was Latin America’s answer to Alanis Morissette, specifically when referring to the Ladrones album. Shakira had an undeniably unique voice, a voice that could be compared to Alanis’. Shakira’s voice fits the texture of her songs and marries the lyrics she penned herself with the instrumentation. She wrote about heartbreak, love, depression and acceptance throughout the album.
I never truly understood how beautiful the Spanish language was until I heard Sombra De Ti, one of the most lovelorn songs I’ve ever heard in my life… one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.
The album had a string of successful singles: Ciega, Sordomuda was the first single that took Spanish Rock/Pop by storm. It reached number one on the Columbian charts during its debut week. Tu, Inevitable (another beautiful heartbroken ballad that still amazes me with each listen to this very day), No Creo and the massive Ojos Asi. She pretty much released half the album as singles and each one was more successful than the other. She was a force to be reckoned with. The album ranks as the ninth bestselling Latin album of all-time on the Billboard Charts. As of October 2001 (17 years ago!!!) the album has sold over ten-million copies worldwide.
Ladrones was so successful that her mentor, Gloria Estefan, suggested she re-write the album in English and use it as her English cross-over debut in the States and Europe. Being the amazing artist that Shakira is, she declined and said that the album lived in Spanish. She felt the songs wouldn’t be as effective in another language. Frankly, I can’t see half of these songs working in English because the lyricism, the phrasing, it’s perfectly done in Spanish on this album… I can’t imagine Tu in English. English will never be as emotional as Spanish is. Ojos Asi (Eyes Like Yours) was the only English-version of a Ladrones song that exists, and listening to it, you realize that the magic of the song exists in its Spanish form.
I would say that amongst Shakria’s discography, Ladrones is clearly her landmark record, and also her strongest record. Ask any “true” Shakira fan and they’ll tell you her Spanish records are much stronger than her English records; a sentiment I stand by. Fijacion Oral Vol. 1 is one of the most remarkable records I’ve ever heard. Pies Descalzos is also extremely strong in its own right.
Ladrones was the tipping point in Shakira’s illustrious and successful career. What she will do after releasing her latest album El Dorado? I’m not sure… it wans’t her strongest… but then again, not every artist gets the chance to compare their subsequent records to albums like Ladrones. Check it out below.
This is the first of a few pieces I’ll be writing during October for Hispanic Heritage Month.