In a move that must have provoked some scratching of heads among those familiar with this city, Abu Dhabi chose to kick off the new year last week by rocking out to Shakira, the tousle-haired, booty-wagging South American popstar best known for putting out a steamy chart-topping duet with ex-Fugees member Wyclef Jean in 2006 and for slithering half naked through mud in the music video for the first single off her debut English-language album.
And yet, performing in front of an enthusiastic if lyrically challenged crowd at Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace arena on Wednesday night, Shakira proved surprisingly well suited to the UAE. From her superb belly dancing to the trio of Arabic musicians who joined her onstage to provide backup during several songs, the half-Colombian, half-Lebanese diva ("I am the fruit of my father's Lebanese cedar") offered much that was familiar to the people of this region. And while there was plenty of the singer's toned golden body on display, her costumes--which ranged from a beaded pink halter top and matching skirt to a studded black leather bra-and-trousers ensemble--were modest enough where it mattered to appease all but the most conservative critics. The Shakira that appeared in Abu Dhabi was not the redhot Latin siren of reputation but a talented performer whose physical allure came from her expert use of her body, not from her sex appeal.
As midnight arrived and clouds of sparkling confetti descended on the audience, Shakira thanked Abu Dhabi first in English, then in Arabic, and finally in her native Spanish for allowing her to help the UAE usher in the new year. If it was personally significant for her to greet 2009 in an Arab country, it was just as significant for an Arab country to round off their celebrations with someone like her. But as it turned out, neither side needed to have gotten so worked up: Shakira and Abu Dhabi were a perfect fit.
Video to come once Etisalat fixes the internet in the UAE....