In the five years since Enya's last album, the 13 million selling A Day Without Rain, the world has changed dramatically to become a far more dangerous place. So it comes as a relief to learn that there are some things - such as the artistry of Enya - that can be relied upon to remain constant and true. "We called the album Amarantine to mean everlasting," Enya explains. "Poets use the word to describe an everlasting flower and I loved the image of that. We've spent two years working on the album so it is obviously a very exciting time for me when everything finally comes to fruition and people get to hear what we've been doing."
With its atmospheric blend of sublime melodies, symphonic caverns of sound and classical motifs, Amarantine will delight her legion of fans, to whom Enya's music acts as an oasis of calm and beauty in a world of clamour and chaos. And arguably the values her music has come to represent have never been more needed than they are right now.
Recorded in Ireland, Amarantine is classic Enya and once again, the record is a product of the extraordinary and long-standing creative partnership Enya has enjoyed throughout her career with producer/arranger Nicky Ryan and lyricist Roma Ryan. From the soaring choruses of the title track to the exquisite nuances of “Wild Violet,” based on a haiku by the Japanese poet Basho, everything you could want from an Enya record is here in abundance.
Lyrically, however, you will find one or two innovations. In the past, Enya has sung lyrics written for her by Roma in Gaelic, Welsh, Latin and Spanish, as well as English. This time there is no Gaelic. But in addition to the song in Japanese, Enya sings three songs written in a customised language invented by Roma. The idea arose, she explains, after she'd written lyrics in Elvish when Enya was invited to sing the theme song for The Lord Of The Rings - The Fellowship Of The Ring soundtrack, at the personal request of director Peter Jackson.
"You try things in English or Gaelic and sometimes it just doesn't sound right, so after writing in Tolkien's Elvish I thought I'd try my own language," Roma explains. "It meant we could create the right sounds and words for Enya's voice so the poetry of the lyrics sit on the curves of the music."
With more than 65 million album sales to date, Enya is one of the world's biggest selling artists. Yet her path to the top has hardly been a conventional one, not least because she's achieved her success by eschewing the usual trappings of celebrity, keeping her private life her own and letting her music do the talking.
Born Eithne Ní Bhraonain in Gweedore, County Donegal into a musical family, her own training was in classical music rather than on the Irish folk scene, in which she had little interest. In 1980, when still in her teens, Enya (a transliteration of the Gaelic pronunciation of Eithne) joined members of her family in Clannad at the request of Nicky Ryan, then manager of the band.
Ryan felt that Enya would add new life to the band's arrangements and she became the first keyboard player in the group. She also added extraordinary new vocal textures to the sound. "It was always intended as a temporary measure to introduce Enya into the business of music and touring and to see what future direction she might choose," Nicky recalls. "It was obvious she had a considerable talent in composing her own music and she also had a beautiful voice, but it wasn't getting any space within the group."
When Nicky and his wife and business partner Roma parted company with Clannad in less than amicable circumstances, Enya was given the choice of either staying with the band or taking her chances with the Ryans as a solo artist. Despite the difficulty of parting with a family group, she decided to leave to pursue her own unique musical vision.
Over the next few years, the three of them became a team that went far beyond any conventional notions of the management-artist relationship. "Enya came to live with us and it was a great leap of faith and trust on her part," Nicky Ryan says.
Yet in reality they all took a collective leap of faith, pooling their resources to build their own recording studio in a shed in the Ryans' garden. The bank wouldn't give them a loan and so Enya sold her saxophone, and Nicky and Roma threw in their life savings. Then they built the first console for the studio themselves, Enya and Roma spending three months assembling the components and Nicky then soldering them together. "We put everything into that first studio and if it didn't work we were finished," Nicky recalls.
Once the studio was operational, it was let out to other artists and Enya initially only got to record there in whatever free time was left, developing the tripartite collaboration that continues to this day, with Roma providing the lyrics and Nicky the production, recording and arranging expertise to her music.
The first hint that their leap of faith might just pay off came when Enya was asked to compose music for the soundtrack to David Puttnam's 1984 movie The Frog Prince. That led to a commission to provide the music for the 1986 television documentary The Celts. This time she also performed the music and the haunting songs in both English and Gaelic also became her first solo album, 1987's self-titled Enya. On its release, the record attracted little attention, although subsequently the song "Boadicea" was sampled by both The Fugees and Mario Winans, on his 2004 hit “I Don't Wanna Know.”
One of the few who did take notice was Rob Dickens, then chairman of Warner Bros. Records. In fact, he was so hypnotised by the record that he immediately signed her. Many at the label thought he was mad, and could hear little commercial potential in Enya's ethereal music that seemed to have little in common with the pop fads and fashions of the time. Dickens didn't care. He loved her voice and what she did and that was enough. "Sometimes the company is there to make money, and sometimes it's there to make music," he famously observed. " Enya's the latter." 10/05