Enya: the Hypnotic Allure of a Contemporary Celtic Siren
Toronto Life Fashion (Canada) April 1992
Imagine this: Another grey Monday morning. You're caught in a traffic jam, late for work, the music on the radio your only solace against the dreariness of reality. A new song starts playing, a cathedral of sound envelops you, a poignant melody and a pure sweet voice singing of faraway places. Now you no longer mind sitting still on the highway, because there's nowhere else you'd rather be.
Although the music of Enya tends to have this kind of effect on its listeners, no one was more surprised than the 30-ish Irish singer when 'Orinoco Flow', the first single from her debut solo album, Watermark, went to number 1 in virtually every country with a pop music chart, as listeners were immediately hooked by its irresistible "Sail away, sail away, sail away" chorus. The album sold over 200,000 copies here, and music from it was heard in the films L.A. Story and Green Card. "I had no idea how the public was going to react, because it had a very different sound and we didn't know how it would be categorized," Enya explains in her soft lilt. "But it lends itself to whatever you're feeling - and not a lot of music can do that - so the songs become quite personal."
Last November's release of Enya's second album, Shepherd Moons - and its current platinum-plus status in Canada - prove that her debut was no fluke. It is equally evocative, particularly with the quick-step 'Caribbean Blue' and the poignant 'How Can I Keep From Singing?', based on a 250-year-old Shaker melody.Enya was born into a house of Gaelic-speaking musicians as Eithne Ní Bhraonáin (pronounced Enya Nee BREE-nine; it's the name of a local goddess on the tiny island of Tory, where her grandfather was a schoolteacher) in Donegal on Ireland's wild northwest coast. Most of her four brothers and four sisters formed the folk/rock band Clannad, and Enya studied classical piano. Having made one album with Clannad, Enya struck out on her own in the early eighties. After two successful soundtrack assignments - one for David Puttnam's 1985 feature, The Frog Prince - she began work on Watermark.
To achieve her unique, layered sound, Enya spends hours and hours in the studio, overdubbing countless tracks. Every voice, every instrument, every sound on her songs is her own. "I actually get hypnotized with singing the same part over and over again," she says, "but I've gotten used to concentrating so hard that it's often quite relaxing. Some tracks have hundreds of voices just for one effect. I might sing the same note, with the same sound, 16 times, then repeat for six-part harmonies - just for one little section.
"And if something doesn't work we've got to be brutal, even if we've recorded 500 vocals. Just press the erase button and it's gone," Enya sighs.
Such perfectionism takes its toll- years in the studio and worldwide promotional tours leave little time for private life. "Still," she says, "going home is very important to me. When you travel a lot you tend to lose a little bit of what you're about. The people who saw me growing up, well, they're happy to see me and proud of my achievement with the music, but we talk about the weather and local gossip. I'm Enya again. And so it never changes."
Note: Transcribed by David Smith.