STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's catch up next with one of the better-known women in Latin America. Many know the Columbian singer Shakira for her sultry voice and swiveling hips. She performed at last summer's World Cup in Berlin, and she dominated the Latin Grammys in November. Now, she' wrapping up an exhausting world tour, singing in English and Spanish and showing why she's Latin America's most successful crossover artist.

At a stop in her hometown, NPR's Juan Forero caught up with Shakira.

(Soundbite of music)

JUAN FORERO: Sprinkling rain falls on a huge crowd in Barranquilla Soccer Stadium. And the fans know they're in for a long wait. But then Shakira, the hometown girl from a gritty Caribbean city who made good, comes on. She tells the crowd that everything she's learned, she's learned from Barranquilla - and now the night belongs to the city of her birth.

Ms. SHAKIRA ISABEL MEBARAK RIPOLL: (Singer, Songwriter): (Spanish spoken)

(Soundbite of applause)

FORERO: And then she's playing one of her biggest hits: "Hips Don't Lie" from her last album, "Oral Fixation Vol. 2" - just one of the many songs that have made her a superstar. One who's achieved the crossover appeal in the United States that most Latin singers can only dream of.

(Soundbite of song, "Hips don't Lie")

Ms. RIPOLL: (Singing in Spanish)

FORERO: Born to a father of Lebanese descent and a Colombian mother, Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll says in a rare interview that she started young. She wrote her first song at 8. But not everyone in the Catholic girl's school she attended thought she had a future.

Ms. RIPOLL: I was never able to join my school choir, because there was this music teacher who thought my voice was too strong and too powerful, and it wouldn't fit right in the rest of the choir. It was formed by very white voices. That's how you call the voices of children, you know, in Spanish, (Spanish spoken) - voices that haven't developed yet, and that sound very, very light and soft and beautiful. My voice was strong, and I wanted to sing out loud, and he didn't think that I was the right choice.

FORERO: Instead, she went her own way - winning a string of local singing competitions. She then talked her mother into moving to Bogota, the capital, where she could get close to the record companies. Her two first albums were lackluster. Then, in 1996, came "Pies Descalzos," or "Bare Feet," which sold 4 million copies. That led to another hit album and, finally, her first English-language album, "Laundry Service." It sold 13 million worldwide. Her last two CDs - one in English, one in Spanish - both made the top five on Billboard's U.S. album chart.

SHAKIRA: I take pop music very seriously. And I try to give the best I can give through my music and always improve and always learn, because I think that that's the only way you don't get bored with what you're doing.

FORERO: Fans have come to expect a fresh sound with each Shakira album. They may not know that Shakira speaks three languages, is conversant on existentialism, and holds forth on poverty and Colombia's complicated guerrilla conflict. Indeed, a big reason for coming home is to tout her Pies Descalzos, or Bare Feet Foundation. It's raising money to build schools for poor children, a program she announced in a press conference.

(Soundbite of applause)

FORERO: Coming off a hit album, Shakira says she's now going to spend some time to ponder which direction she'll go next. Her albums take time to produce - up to three years. She acknowledges that she's at a crossroads that's familiar to rising stars - pressured to produce top-selling albums and still sound fresh and inventive. She knows it's easy to sound crassly commercial.

SHAKIRA: I think the risk becomes greater when you start repeating formulas, when you stop competing against yourself, you know. When you lose authenticity, when you don't rely on your own feelings.

(Soundbite of music)

FORERO: In her concert in Barranquilla, Shakira prepared to go on stage with some of Colombia's best-known folkloric musicians, among them Joaquin Guillen of the Brothers Zuleta band. He remembered when she was just a girl, how she got advice from him and other established musicians. Now, he says she's the future.

Mr. JOAQUIN GUILLEN (Member, Brothers Zuleta Band): (Through translator) Now, Shakira represents us in the world. For us, she's the Colombian Madonna.

FORERO: The crowd, to be sure, went wild with Shakira - gyrating, swiveling, dashing barefoot from one end of the stage to the other, and then off and then on again. The night did belong to Barranquilla for sure, but it also belonged to Shakira.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. RIPOLL: (Spanish spoken)

Juan Forero, NPR News, Barranquilla, Colombia.

(Soundbite of song "Hips Don't Lie")

SHAKIRA: (Singing) Oh I'm on tonight, you know my hips don't lie and I'm starting to feel you, boy. Come on, let's go...

INSKEEP: To hear more of Shakira, visit npr.org/music. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.

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