July 17, 2011
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The long awaited and sometimes controversial Shakira concert went off without a hitch last night (July 16) in downtown Mérida. Under a clear sky, with a full moon rising in the east and a gentle breeze cooling the crowd, the Colombian singer, dancer and do-it-all performer strode on stage at 9:40 p.m., some 40 minutes after the scheduled start of her show. Nobody minded the delay. There’s no doubt that Shakira is multi-faceted: she sings, she dances, she gyrates, she cartwheels across stage, she plays multiple instruments and most importantly, she entertains. It’s easy to see why she’s a music icon of international stature. Heck, even Barack Obama wanted Shakira at his 2009 inaugural festivities.
Municipal authorities estimated last night’s crowd at about 170,000. Concert-goers began queuing up as early as 3:00 p.m., some arriving on foot and others via bus. Attendees were orderly, polite and cooperative throughout the evening. There was an impressive display of police and paramilitary personnel to protect guests and to deter any possible misconduct. Law enforcement was even-handed and professional throughout the 12 acre concert site, which undoubtedly paid off: neither a single incident was reported nor arrest made. Medical first-responders, ambulances and fire trucks were close at hand, but they were not needed.
City workers, who together with Shakira employees led people to their seats and directed the flow of traffic within the concert perimeter, were exemplary.
Shakira’s performance ended exactly at 11:00 p.m., but the crowd demanded an encore, so she and her musical entourage strode back on stage for three more songs. Altogether, guests were treated to about 100 minutes of entertainment, and in two languages, since Shakira performs in both Spanish and English. The entertainment company’s traveling stage is enormous, and their equipment a marvel of high-tech wizardry. Brilliant stage lights bathed Shakira and her fellow performers in constantly changing colors, enormous television screens strategically placed throughout La Plancha ensured that all could see, the sound system literally rocked the earth, and artificial smoke, steam and bubbles at just the right moment added to the enchantment. Dozens of technicians monitored glowing computer screens as if they were preparing for a space launch. And the rain held out.
According to a local media source, the 170,000 Méridans who turned out last night were one of the largest crowds ever to attend a live Shakira concert. Her 2007 appearance in Mexico City – a much larger venue – reportedly drew over 200,000.
The concert was not without predictable controversy of a political nature. When first announced by the PRI administration of Mayor Angelica Arajuo Lara in March, at a reported cost of $21 million pesos (about $1.75 million USD), PAN leaders in the Ayuntamiento were quick to criticize, characterizing it as a massive waste of taxpayer money. The Mayor and her staff responded by assuring that the entire outlay – and then some – would be recovered by the city in the form of private donations and commercial sponsorships. That remains the sticking point. After PAN’s repeated demands for financial details, the city issued a press release early Friday morning, claiming that 51 sponsors had contributed an aggregate $24.5 million pesos to cover the costs of both the concert and the clean-up of La Plancha, Mérida’s former railway station, where it was staged.
But the press release was thin on specifics. Although the alleged sponsors were identified, there was no indication of how much each contributed, or when. Some PRI officials said that “full details” would be released after the concert, while at least one other said that “we never promised all the details.” The Mayor herself has been vague on the topic, and appeared to be preparing for any possible line of defense in her comments last week. She noted that La Plancha has been restored, and that over the long term, a concert by Shakira would bring Mérida international recognition and would promote tourism, with a probable boost to local investment. But the dollars and cents of last night’s event will likely remain a subject of partisan debate for a long time to come.