There are several major camps of reaction to that statement. One camp reacts by saying this: “Yay! I’m a big fan too!” Another camp reacts by saying this: “The Irish New Age chick? Are you serious Chuck?” Still another camp has this reaction: “Who? Enya? Is that a man, a woman, a group, or a hair gel?”
A few points need to be made. First of all, Enya does not identify herself as a New Age artist. Frankly, the term ‘New Age’ has devolved to the point of being nearly meaningless (not that it meant a great deal in the first place). It means about as much as identifying a product as ‘natural’ or ‘green.’ In truth, Enya’s sound is so distinctive that she’s very nearly a genre unto herself.
Enya’s musical career began as a member of the Irish group Clannad, which was comprised of members of her actual family. After a couple of albums with them, Enya went solo. Her first major set of compositions came when she was hired in 1986 to compose and perform the music to accompany a historical BBC documentary series titled The Celts. That music may be found on a CD titled either The Celts or simply Enya, depending on when it was manufactured. The music didn’t garner a great deal of attention at the time, but it led to Enya’s first proper solo album, Watermark, released in 1988. That album includes a song you’ve heard many, many times, even if you don’t know it. The song is titled “Orinoco Flow,” though a lot of people probably think its title is “Sail Away” since that phrase is repeated quite a few times. It was a huge international hit and it put her on the map.
My own introduction to Enya came several years later, shortly after I moved to Chicago. A visiting friend brought along the CD of Enya’s second release, Shepherd Moons. She left it playing (with the stereo set on random track selection) for many hours through a memorable evening, and by morning, I was hooked. To this day, Shepherd Moons remains my favorite Enya CD.
It doesn’t take much of a fortune to assemble a reasonably complete collection of Enya’s work. By her own admission, she composes very slowly, and she typically goes five years or so between releases.
Now as for the songs themselves, they contain a wide variety of influences and languages, though Enya’s Irish roots are frequently in evidence stylistically. Roma Ryan writes most of the lyrics, while Enya writes most of the music. Roma’s husband Nicky is the producer, while Enya plays most of the instruments and layers most of the vocals herself. It’s a tight little three-person operation that has resulted in an impressive and unique body of work. While Enya has recorded many songs in English, she often records songs in Gaelic as well. Other languages may also be found in her work, including Latin, Japanese, Spanish, and even Loxian, a language invented by Roma Ryan and patterned after the Elvish language of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels.
Though Enya mostly records her own compositions, she has also done some wonderful renditions of older works, including “How Can I Keep From Singing?”, “Marble Halls”, and a strikingly beautiful Gaelic translation of “Silent Night.”
I have heard Enya used as a punchline; as if it’s a complete mystery how anyone could like her often dreamy, lush, arrangements and meandering melodies. Well, there’s no accounting for taste I suppose, but if someone starts from that prejudice, I don’t suppose Enya has much of a chance of impressing them. In fairness, though, Enya has been known to get the pulse pounding on occasion. Listen to her song “Book of Days” and your toes are very liable to start a-tapping. “Wild Child” on the other hand, is very nearly contemporary pop in its rhythm and feel. So even if there are many musical styles into which Enya may never tread, one can’t quite put her in a box either.
One of the oddest chapters in Enya’s musical career involves the song “Only Time.” It was used for a while in ads on NBC in conjunction with Ross & Rachel’s on-again/off-again romance in the series Friends. But things got really strange after the 9/11 attacks. Somebody did a remix of the song, incorporating sounds of the attacks between phrases in an attempt to achieve some sort of poignancy. Enya and her people disapproved of this, though she did later release an expanded single of the song and donated the proceeds to families of the victims.
Enya’s career album sales have topped the 70 million mark, an incredible number considering that she has never toured, never even put together a fully produced concert, and has performed live only rarely and sporadically.
In closing, I want to assure you that you needn’t care for Enya at all if you’re my friend, and I hope you won’t consider my affection for her music as an impediment to our friendship. But I feel better now that I’ve come clean on the matter.