The Super Bowl LIV halftime show was headlined by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira on Sunday night. The show, which featured guest appearances from Bad Bunny and J Balvin, acted as a celebration of Latino culture, but Shakira also paid homage to her Middle Eastern heritage.
Shakira was born and raised in Baranquilla, Colombia, but her father is Lebanese and her mother is Spanish and Italian. Shakira is a common Arabic name, meaning ‘grateful.’ Her paternal grandparents emigrated from Lebanon to New York City, where her father was born, before her father relocated to Colombia at age five. Many people don’t know this, but South America is actually one of the largest homes to Arabs outside of the Middle East.
During Shakira’s performance of “Ojos Así,” a song on which she sings both Arabic and Spanish, the beat switched to a popular Arabic belly-dancing beat. Shakira has credited her belly dancing skills to her Middle Eastern roots, in which the style of dance originated.
After her rendition of “Ojos Así,” Shakira looked directly at the camera, flicked her tongue, and made almost a yodelling sound.
This is where all the memes came from last night.
There's no English translation for what that sound was, but it's actually a traditional celebratory chant, referred to as a “zaghrouta” in Arabic. It’s most commonly done at weddings, parties, and other celebrations. Specifically, it’s done when a bride and groom enter a wedding hall, when someone graduates from high school, and generally when celebrating any special moment.
According to Arab America, “Zaghrouta is best described in English as ‘ululation.’ It is a form of a long, wavering, high-pitched vocal sound representing trills of joy. It is produced by emitting a high pitched loud voice accompanied by a rapid back and forth movement of the tongue.”
Zaghrouta “dates back to the pre-Islamic era, as it was a traditional ritual of idolatry practiced collectively by women asking the idols for relief, mercy, rain, etc,” Arab America continues. “In addition to drumbeats, they also used ululation to stimulate excitement on battlefields.”
So, while many pointed out that Shakira’s attempt at zaghrouta may not have been flawlessly executed, which lead to the memes, it did come from an honest place of paying homage to her heritage.
This isn’t the first time Shakira has honored her Lebanese background. As recently as 2018, she performed a concert in Tannourine, the Lebanese village where her grandmother was born.
“This means so much to me to be singing in the land of my grandparents,” she told the crowd. “I feel so proud of my heritage, and so proud of you.”