ABU DHABI // Shakira, the Latin pop star, last night headlined a lavish New Year's Eve party that many fans had feared would not come off. Organisers of the party at the Emirates Palace hotel and people planning to attend it waited yesterday to learn whether Abu Dhabi's celebrations would be cancelled because of the violence in Gaza, as they were in Dubai on the order of its Ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. They were not.
But Shakira's show, to which the promoters had hoped to attract 10,000 fans, was not sold out. The singer, whose father hails from Lebanon, referred to her Arab roots as she took the stage but did not mention the violence in the Palestinian territory. "I'm the fruit of an Arab land, and I'm immensely proud of my Arab heritage," she said. "I just wanted you to know that. I can't think of a better place to spend New Year's Eve."
Fans expressed mixed feelings about the concert proceeding as planned. Many had paid hundreds of dirhams for tickets. Naman Dahooua, 18, a student from Algeria, said she was glad it was going ahead because she was a big fan of Skakira, but she had reservations. "For two weeks I've been dreaming about this concert. I really love her," she said. "But I think they should cancel it." Of the people of Gaza, Ms Dahooua said: "I feel so sorry about them."
Mohammed Hisham, 16, from Syria, said: "I feel kind of guilty because I'm out here celebrating and the people in Gaza are dying. It's pretty bad what's happening." Richard Kilan, 42, an American computer engineer, said people should support the Palestinians but that it would not make any difference to them if the concert were cancelled. Since arriving in the capital on Sunday, Shakira has been on a desert safari and experienced some traditional Bedouin culture.
"It was a great occasion to absorb the wonders and beauty of the desert with some local friends," she said. Although the Grammy-award-winner has never performed in her father's homeland - she was scheduled to play one of Lebanon's biggest music events, the Beiteddine Festival, last year but it was cancelled because of political turmoil - she said she planned to soon. "Lebanon will absolutely be part of my next world tour," she said.
Staff at the hotel had been working since Dec 17 to transform the Emirates Palace grounds for last night's La Rumba party. Lee Charteris, the operations manager for Flash, the organisers of the event, was in charge of making sure the concert and associated events went smoothly. He supervised the building of Shakira's stage and the four 20-square-metre party tents in the grounds. In all, 120 scaffold workers, 60 video, sound and lighting technicians, 100 cleaners and more than 150 food and beverage staff were on hand.
TransAD was to run a steady stream of taxis to take partygoers home and the company ran its bus services, on the normal day schedule, throughout the night. firstname.lastname@example.org