Album review: Shakira’s El Dorado is a summer treat for her Latino fans
When Shakira released the single La Bicicleta last summer, a jaunty duet with her popular compatriot Carlos Vives, it offered a big clue about her upcoming LP. That song is “a tribute to Colombia”, said the singer and, a year on, her 11th album continues the theme. El Dorado is Shakira’s proudest invocation of her Amazonian roots.
The title refers to Colombia’s lost ‘golden city’, and a mysterious marketing strategy preceded this record: fans became digital conquistadors, searching for track-related treasures. Such talk of golden eras now feels tentatively appropriate, given that Colombia began a healing process last year after decades of disastrous infighting.
Shakira deserves hearty tributes herself, having long been Colombia’s most recognised cultural ambassador. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the breakthrough album, Laundry Service, which launched her beyond Latin America. That record drew criticism back home for its English lyrics, but this release – much of it sung in Spanish – largely targets the Latin audience.
Indeed, El Dorado breaks new ground for this global icon. La Bicicleta, which is about biking around childhood haunts, uses local instruments – and surprisingly the first time Shakira has collaborated with another Colombian vocalist. She showcases more countrymen here: the Medellin-born heart-throb Maluma – “pretty boy”, according to Shakira – duets on two tracks, notably the electronic dancefloor stomper Chantaje, another huge-selling Latin single.
A couple of songs do feel like contractual obligations, particularly the listless Perro Fiel, which features the Puerto Rican reggaeton act Nicky Jam. But the album’s Hispanic focus allows its star to have some fun, rather than follow North American chart trends.
Amarillo could be a Spanish cover of Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach, before a pumping Europop chorus kicks in. The closing piano ballad Toneladas is beautifully understated, and though Coconut Tree is sung in English, it channels Australian synthpoppers Empire of the Sun and is admirably quirky. “Make it like it used to be, give me a time machine,” she sings, longing for a personal El Dorado.
Elsewhere, there are club cuts to suit most speakers: the fabulous When a Woman and the fiery She Wolf. Me Enamoré is a dancefloor-filler in any language, while Comme Moi comes in two versions: English, featuring Canadian reggae band Magic!, and the superior Anglo-French original with Parisian rapper Black M.
Whatever the language be, her hits don’t lie.