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Your Explainer of All the Middle-Eastern Stuff Shakira Did During the Super Bowl Halftime Show

By Roxana Hadadi | TV | February 3, 2020 |

By Roxana Hadadi | TV | February 3, 2020 |


Did you know that Shakira is half-Lebanese? She is! Her name means “full of grace” in Arabic! And that cultural heritage was on proud display last night during her portion of the Super Bowl 54 halftime show. Shakira’s musical career has always been a melding of her Colombian national heritage and her Lebanese, Spanish, and Italian ethnic heritage, and if you didn’t already pick up on that, her music video for the song “Ojos Así” made it pretty clear …

… and Shakira went all-in in the same mode during last night’s performance, even performing a tiny bit of that aforementioned song. In particular, you might have seen this viral tweet going around:

So let’s break that down! Let’s learn some brown-people stuff! For centuries, belly dancing has been mythologized in Western cultures as “sexualized dancing,” and this obviously only enables the Orientalization and exoticization of brown women. (I remember The Simpsons episode “Homer’s Night Out” and Princess Kashmir being a major proponent of this “belly dancing is a slutty thing” ideology). But what I appreciate about how often Shakira busts out the belly dancing is that she’s often doing it alone onstage, or when surrounded by other women—stressing the communal attitude of this dance. This is a style of folk dance that is incredibly difficult and most primarily shows the strength of the women doing it. You know how in Hustlers, Jennifer Lopez’s Ramona tells Constance Wu’s Destiny that she too has the muscles needed to strip—that all women have the muscles necessary for that? ACTUALLY, I’m convinced Shakira has more muscles than the average person. The variety of her movement! The percussive hip thrusts! The fluidity of her torso and arms! The way she can isolate her rib cage! She’s just really fucking good at this.


Next up: the mijwiz. Chances are that if you’ve ever listened to any Middle Eastern music, you’ve heard this instrument before, which is a short, double-piped reed flute. It’s sometimes called the “double clarinet,” and it’s a common fixture in Arabic folk music, and it’s difficult as hell to play because it requires circular breathing so the tune is performed without interruption. You heard the mijwiz during Shakira’s rope dance.


Do you remember that Maz Jobrani bit about brown people loving to dance so much that they would almost do it to their own detriment? Whenever I hear the mijwiz and want to bust a move, I think of that.

Let’s talk about the other instrument mentioned in Danny Hajar’s tweet: the derbeke. You can see somebody tapping on this drum in the orchestral lineup playing along to Shakira during “Empire,” before she transitioned into Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” The derbeke (also spelled “darbuka”) drum is a modern version of the doumbek drum, a goblet-shaped instrument that has been around for thousands of years, with iterations all throughout the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and the Mediterranean (sometimes called different names; in Iran, the drum is called the tombak or tonbak). You play the drum by hitting different areas of the surface with your fingers, and this drum is a fixture in various Middle Eastern orchestras. Observe!

And finally, we have the zaghrouta. On the good old Twitter, I’ve seen people comparing Shakira’s use of this traditionally female ululation, an expression of joy and celebration, with pantomiming oral sex and with a goat, which feels pretty low-key racist to me:


Those are both wrong! The zaghrouta is, again, a common occurrence during any Middle Eastern celebration, like a wedding or a party. This isn’t only an Arabic thing; go to an Iranian wedding and women are busting out zaghroutas all over the place, and the ululation also pops up in countries and regions with historical Muslim influence, like the Balkans, which used to be part of the Ottoman empire. When I was in a Middle Eastern dance group in high school, because I’m cool like that, our diverse group used backing music that included a zaghrouta breakdown. Because again, I am very cool.

On what is perhaps the biggest American stage for a pop star (last night’s game was expected to reach 100 million viewers), Shakira stood up for her Lebanese heritage in a country that is still overwhelmingly defined by ignorance and misinformation regarding the Middle East. And of course, the FCC complaint database is riddled with complaints of “indecency” from last night, and although I’m sure Jennifer Lopez’s stripper pole received a solid amount of those, I wouldn’t be surprised if a good percentage of whining puritans were scandalized by Shakira’s ethnic performance first.

Well, in the immortal words of M.I.A. during her own scandalous Super Bowl performance, “I don’t give a shit!”

Shakira did the damn thing, and if you don’t mind me, I’ll be over here delivering a zaghrouta in her honor.

You can watch the full SuperBowl Halftime Show here.

Roxana Hadadi is a Senior Editor for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter.

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