July 18, 2011

Shakira in Mérida: Free Concert for 150,000 People

"Good evening, Mérida! Tonight is yours!" was the greeting, as award-winning, Colombian singer Shakira appeared on the stage. The answering cheer, from the amassed crowd of 150,000 people, could surely have been heard back in Cancún.

None of them had paid a single peso to be here. The performance was a gift from the city authorities. The mayor's office had organized it; a consortium of business people had paid for it. Now Shakira was here and the people of Mérida were having the time of their lives.

Shakira in Merida

Shakira entertained the city for two hours, playing all of her greatest hits, including 'Pies Descalzos', 'Hips Don’t Lie', 'Te Dejo Madrid', 'La Tortura', 'Loba' and 'Antes de las Seis'. A surprise addition to the set-list was a cover of the US band, Metallica's 'Nothing Else Matters', which was received very well by the exuberant masses.

Her encore, of course, was 'Waka, Waka (This Time for Africa)', which was the official song of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Watching from the wings was her own favourite international footballer. Boyfriend Gerard Piqué, centre back for Barcelona FC, and one of the key players for the Spanish team that won the World Cup last year, accompanied Shakira to Mérida.

Tickets were handed out at special 'one-stop shops' around the city, in the days leading up to the event. The majority of people stood, but there was preferential seating for the disabled and for youngsters who had demonstrated outstanding academic or sporting prowess. Teachers and coaches were previously invited to nominate students for the treat, with organizers choosing who to honor based on their records and stories.

Land around a former railway station, La Plancha, was cleared and developed, in order to hold this free concert on Saturday night. It had previously been derelict and overgrown, but now promises to be a venue for future events in Mérida.

Shakira in Merida

However, not everyone was happy. Some protesters boycotted the concert, whilst campaigning against the use of public money for it. They argued that, though Shakira's fee had been paid by local business people, preparing the land came from the treasury. This was money, they maintained, whilst would have been better spent on education or health. They were also concerned by the lack of transparency surrounding costs, through which it became impossible to know precisely how much tax-payers had contributed.

Angelica Araujo Lara, the municipal president of the city, had held a series of public meetings, outlining how the concert would bring tourism to the area. The city's hotels, shops, restaurants and bars would all benefit as attendees were drawn from outside Mérida; while the global coverage of the event would be a great showcase for the city. In short, any money put in by the public purse would be recouped by this boost to the local economy.


With an eye to the incoming tourists, attracted by the presense of Shakira, this concert didn't happen in isolation. In the week leading up to it, several public events were staged, including a huge exhibition of Mérida handicrafts; a folk ballet; a musical review, featuring children and teenagers from the city; and a concert by local bands and the city's orchestra. All of these were free to attend and took place in Mérida's main parks and plazas.

A selection of fan-made videos, filmed at the Mérida concert, can be found at Yazmín MK's 'My Shaki Blog'.

Shakira in Merida


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