Enya Celtic Choirs
Echoes (NPR Public Radio USA) 27 December 1991
A clip from 'The Longships' leads the profile for 18 seconds and continues in the background as the narrator, Kimberly Haas, speaks.
Kimberly Haas:The sounds of Enya have become ubiquitous since her 1989 recording, Watermark. It spawned the hit single, 'Orinoco Flow', and songs like 'Storms in Africa' have appeared in everything from film sound tracks to American Express ads.
As Haas speaks, the background music shifts to 'Storms in Africa'. There is a 9 second interlude before Haas continues.
Enya creates a rich wave of vocal harmonies, turning herself into a choir, by painstakingly overdubbing her voice. Enya is actually a triumvirate of people. Besides the diminutive singer, there's her crusty, Svengali-like producer, Nicky Ryan, and his wife, Roma Ryan, who writes all the lyrics. Enya says they discovered their multi-vocal process while working on a BBC TV series, The Celts.
Enya: It's to do with the multi-vocal sound. That's the real new sound that has happened from the experimenting. This is an idea Nicky has had for years and years. And it's basically, um, recording hundreds and hundreds of vocals until this sound actually evolves.
Kimberly Haas:It's not a new idea. Artists as diverse as avant-garde composer Joan La Barbara and Kate Bush have been doing it for years. It was the same technology that the Carpenters turned into hit singles in the 1960s and '70s. But Enya creates something different. (Background shifts from 'Storms in Africa' to 'Smaointe'.) Singing many of her songs in Gaelic and Latin, it sounds like it came from another time and another country -- an ancient, ethereal hieroglyphic.
Interlude, 'Smaointe', 33 seconds.
Enya's Celtic heritage is rich and deep. Her full name is Eithne Nķ Bhraonįin, and she was a member of the innovative Irish folk-rock group Clannad, made up of her sister, brothers, and uncles. (Background shifts to Clannad's 'Mhorag 's na horo Gheallaidh'.) Music has been in her family since she was a child.
Enya: We always had an interest in harmony. As far back as, uh, when we were growing up, we used to, my mother used to enter us into competitions. And one of the sections was, uh, where the, most of the family were singing in like four-part harmony. And it's something we grew up with. And we all had a great love for it. And we seem to have brought it into our music as such. But even in Clannad, it was still arranged. It's a different type of harmony as the harmony I do now.
'Mhorag 's na horo Gheallaidh', 21 seconds.
Kimberly Haas: Even with her unusual production style, Enya's Celtic roots ring out. Whether singing a ballad or performing a song like 'Ebudę', which is based on the tradition of port-a-beul, or mouth music, with voices replacing instruments. (Background has shifted to 'Ebudę'.)
'Ebudę', 8 seconds.
Nicky Ryan The rhythm, in fact, is weaving. That's what we... that's what inspired the rhythmic side of it, is weaving cloth. And that's exactly the rhythm they set up when they're weaving.
Enya: Ebudę was used before, because Ebudę was in 'Orinoco Flow'. "Ebudę unto Khartoum" was one of the lyrics Roma had. And Ebudę is an old Latin name for the Hebrides. And, there's a big connection from where I was brought up, County Donegal, and to Scotland. There's a lot of families that have, um, that have emigrated to Scotland. Therefore, there's this big connection with, uh, the fact where I come from Gaelic is the first language. And for some people, their Scotch Gaelic is their first language. And I always found, um, Scotch Gaelic has this... it's more rhythmic to the Gaelic music.
Nicky Ryan So you actually have the two dialects. There's, there's the Scots Gaelic in one part. There's the flowing Irish in the other part. But the rhythm's maintained throughout. No words involved, it's sounds. Mouth sounds. But with a lot of rhythm, which people would dance to. Because it simply wasn't, it was against the law to play an instrument in Ireland at one stage. Totally against the law to even own one. So people invented their own music -- through their mouth.'Ebudę', 17 seconds.
Kimberly Haas: It's Nicky Ryan who creates Enya's sound design, with ornate vocal layers and extensive use of reverberation that places her in cathedrals of echo.
Nicky Ryan You can point the finger at me when it comes to reverb and stuff like that. I have a great love for atmosphere. And, um, I don't think twice about it. I don't think maybe we should do less of this, maybe we should do more. (Background has shifted from 'Ebudę' to 'Marble Halls'.) I just do what I feel is... necessary. There's a song called "Marble Halls", for example, which in its very essence it suggests reverb to me -- the fact that you are in the marble halls. You must have it.
'Marble Halls', 16 seconds.
Kimberly Haas: It's a music of imagery that Enya and company create. Drawing upon mythology, ancient history, and inner thoughts for their lyric content, Enya sees it as an escape. With topics like shepherd moons, Tolkien stories, or the London blitz on 'Evacuee', the imagery is always vague enough to leave the door open for any interpretation. And the music makes you want to sail on wings of fantasy.
Enya: I think, uh, yes, it would, because Roma, um, enjoys, uh, the imagination, as far as, uh, that it can be more beautiful than reality. Background shifts to 'Shepherd Moons'. Especially when you're working in Dublin in wintertime, it's nice to be able to escape through these lyrics or the music.
'Shepherd Moons', 15 seconds.
Kimberly Haas:For Echoes, I'm Kimberly Haas.
When Haas ends, conclusion of 'Shepherd Moons' fades.
Note: Transcribed by R.M. Echoes is a contemporary music program - "a nightly music soundscape" - broadcast on various Public Radio stations in the USA.