Singer, Songwriter, Composer
After performing in the folk group Clannad and doing solo soundtrack work for a few years, Irish vocalist, composer, and musician Enya rushed up the British charts with the album Watermark in 1988. The following year she achieved success in the United States, most notably with her hit single “Orinoco Flow.” Enya’s sound combines the spiritual qualities of New Age music with traditional Celtic sounds in a way that ultimately “transcends the category of Celtic New Age,” asserted Helena Mulkerns in Rolling Stone. Enya was born Eithne Ni Bhraonain in Gweedore, County Donegal, Ireland, to a musical family in the early 1960s. Her first language, as well as her name, is Gaelic; Enya is an English spelling of the pronunciation of her first name. She and several of her eight siblings inherited their parents’ musical abilities and were involved in the Irish folk group, Clannad. In 1982 though, Enya left the group to find follow her own inspiration. To pursue this goal she traveled to Dublin, where she rented a room in the home of former Clannad manager Nicky Ryan. She struck up a working relationship with Ryan’s wife, Roma, who began providing Enya with lyrics for her compositions. Eventually, in 1985, Enya was contracted to score a film for David Puttnam entitled The Frog Prince. This opportunity led to her real breakthrough, recording the soundtrack of the BBC television series “The Celts.” Music from this project was released on the album Enya by Atlantic Records. Though critic Michael Tearson of Audio pointed out that Enya “is not as elaborate” as the artist’s later Watermark, he recommended it “as a fitting companion” to the more popular album.
When Watermark was released in Great Britain, the single “Orinoco Flow”—described variously as “a moody tale of traveling down Venezuela’s Orinoco River” in People, and as “genuinely upbeat” by Tearson—became England’s biggest seller during the autumn of 1988. When “Orinoco Flow” found its way to the United States the following year, it received a great deal of airplay on adult contemporary radio stations and thus became popular with American fans as well. As Lucy O’Brien noted in the New Statesman, some of the song’s success can be credited to “the ‘Orinoco Flow’ video, a video montage of nature, maritime and wildlife footage sealed with a high speed painted effect.” This creative effort was aired frequently on the video cable channel VH-1.
Enya’s style on Watermark has been favorably analyzed by many critics. One unusual feature of the album is the composer’s use of three different languages—English, Latin, and Gaelic. One Watermark track, “Cursum Perficio,” was labeled by O’Brien as a “hymn-like Latin … tribute to Marilyn Monroe.” And Mulkerns declared that “the ethnic touches throughout tend to enrich without dominating, as with the Gaelic lyrics on
Born Eithne (pronounced Enya) Ni Bhraonain c. 1962 in Gweedore, County Donegal, Ireland; daughter of musicians.
Member of folk group Clannad prior to 1982; composed score for film The Frog Prince, 1985; performed soundtrack of the BBC series The Celts; music has also been featured in the films Green Card and LA. Story; solo recording artist, c. 1986—.
Addresses: Record company—Geffen (UNI Distribution Corp.), 70 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608.
… ‘Na Laetha Gael M’Oige.’” Though Enya uses English on “Storms in Africa” as well as on “Orinoco Flow,” O’Brien noted the engaging use of African hand drums and the “muted percussive threat” of the former cut.
Reviewers seem to agree that Watermark’s best effects come from the use of Enya’s remarkable voice on many different tracks of particular songs. As Mulkerns reported, Enya’s manager and producer Nicky Ryan “overdubbed up to 100 voice tracks to create a chorus of Latin-chanting Enyas” on “Cursum Perficio.” Tearson asserted that by overdubbing on songs like “Orinoco Flow,” and “The Longships” the artist “creates vast aural sweeps that are at once astonishing and lovely.” One critic who was not so keen on the overdubbing, Tish Hamilton of Seventeen, nonetheless praised Enya’s singing abilities, rejoicing that in “On Your Shore,” her “pure, bell-tone voice is … unencumbered by layered production.” Tearson concluded that “the ethereal beauty” of Enya’s “sounds” raise Watermark “way beyond most so-called New Age music. It makes the difference between background and foreground music.”
Enya (includes music from “The Celts”), Atlantic, c. 1986.
Watermark (includes “Orinoco Flow,” “Cursum Perficio,” “The Longships,” “On Your Shore,” “Na Laetha Gael M’Oige,” and “Storms in Africa”), Geffen, 1989.
Audio, May 1989.
New Statesman, November 18, 1988.
People, March 27, 1989.
Rolling Stone, March 23, 1989.
Seventeen, May 1989.
Singer, songwriter, composer
Enya has become a top-selling artist by transforming her background in classical music training and her roots in Irish folk music into a unique Celtic/New Age blend. Ethereal melodies and pulsing keyboard-driven rhythms are hallmarks of her sound, evidenced on such signature tunes as “Orinoco Flow,” “Caribbean Blue,” “Anywhere Is” and “Only Time.” In spite of the fact she has never gone on a concert tour of her own and rarely gives interviews, Enya has sold more than 44 million albums, becoming Ireland’s best-selling solo artist ever.
Enya was born in Gweedore, County Donegal (the Gaelic-speaking region of Ireland) in 1961. Her first language was Gaelic, as was her birthname, Eithne Ni Bhraonain (pronounced Enya Brennan). She was the fifth of nine children in a musical family. Her father was a dance band leader, her mother was a music teacher, and three of her siblings along with two of her uncles formed the popular Irish folk group Clannad. Enya studied classical piano and joined Clannad in 1980 when the band decided to incorporate keyboards into their traditional music.
In 1982, Enya left Clannad to follow her own inspiration. Nicky Ryan, who had been managing Clannad, stopped working with the band at the same time. Enya moved to Dublin and lived with Ryan and his wife Roma for the next six years. While living with them she practiced classical piano and began composing music. Roma Ryan sent out tapes of Enya’s pieces to a number of film producers. Enya’s solo career started when one of those producers, David Putnam, commissioned her to write the score for his 1985 film, The Frog Prince.
At the time that Enya began scoring The Frog Prince, she had no desire to write lyrics. Roma, however, had a great love of poetry and had a natural ability to tune into the meaning of Enya’s music. “I don’t even have to tell her what the song is about,” Enya told Jeremy Helligar of People, “She just knows what I’m trying to say. She’s able to capture that emotion with the lyrics. It works out well.” So began the long relationship of Enya as musical composer and Roma Ryan as lyricist.
Enya followed with a score for a BBC television series The Celts. She and Nicky Ryan began developing a compositional method, using multilayered keyboards and vocals, although they came to their work with very different musical influences. “With me it was Irish traditional music,” Enya told David Gritten of the Los Angeles Times, “… With him it was the Beach Boys and Phil Spector. And I can hear that combination of all those influences in the music.” The Celts attracted the attention of David Dickins, chairman of Warner Music UK who signed Enya as an artist. “When I first heard her, I fell for her totally,” Dickins told Gritten, “But I signed her as an artist without any commercial potential at all…. Other companies were signing up bands in
Born Eithne Ni Bhraonain (pronounced Enya Brennan) on May 17, 1961, in Gweedore, County Donegal, Ireland; daughter of Lee O. Bhraonain, a dance band leader, and Maira, a music teacher; has eight siblings.
Joined relatives in Irish band Clannad, 1980; left to pursue solo career and form musical partnership with Nicky Ryan and lyricist Roma Ryan, 1982; composed score for film The Frog Prince, 1985; composed soundtrack for BBC series The Celts, 1987 (album renamed and released as Enya in same year); signed with WEA Records and released Watermark, 1988; Geffen released Watermark in the United States, 1989; music from Watermark featured in the films Green Card and L.A. Story, 1989; Reprise released Shepherd Moons, 1991; contributed to Far and Away film soundtrack; 1992; Enya is reissued as The Celts, 1992; released The Memory of Trees, 1995; released Paint the Sky with Stars, 1997; released A Day Without Rain, 2000.
Awards: Grammy Award for Best New Age Album, National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), 1992, for Shepherd Moons; Grammy Award for Best New Age Album, NARAS, 1996, for The Memory of Trees.
Addresses: Record company —Reprise, 3300 Warner Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91505-4694. Website— http://www.enyamusic.com.
the style of U2 and here we were, signing this ethereal Irish singer.” Music from this project was released on the album Enya by Atlantic Records.
With the release of Watermark in 1988, Enya found her audience. The single “Orinoco Flow” (named after Venezuela’s Orinoco River and widely referred to in the United States as “Sail Away”) became a Number One hit in Great Britain. The song’s richly textured production and ear-catching chorus established the form that Enya would follow in subsequent releases. Geffen Records released Watermark in the United States the following year and quickly won new American fans for Enya. By this time, the Ryans had moved to a new home in Dalkey and built a studio on their grounds. Enya moved to Killiney, about 20 minutes walking distance away. Watermark had been painstakingly developed over two years in the Ryans’s home studio. Paul Evans described Watermark as a “remarkable record” in The Rolling Stone Album Guide, and “Orinoco Flow” as a song that achieves “nearly mythic resonance.” Songs from the album were featured in the film soundtracks of L.A. Story and Green Card.
In 1991, Shepherd Moons debuted at Number One in Great Britain and went on to surpass sales of Watermark. However, some critics weren’t convinced that it was up to the caliber of her first album; Paul Evans of The Rolling Stone Album Guide, described it as “a bit of a comedown.” Nevertheless, the album’s single “Caribbean Blue” reached number 79 in the United States and “Book of Days” received exposure on the soundtrack to the film Far and Away. And in 1993 Shepherd Moons won the Grammy for Best New Age Album.
Enya saw her reclusiveness as a necessary part of making her albums. “Going back to Watermark, I think we cut ourselves off from the music scene because we felt it would be a negative influence,” she told Gritten. “Our music was very different, and we’d had no success at that stage, so we deliberately didn’t seek or want anyone else’s opinion. Even now I think if I got caught up in a glitzy entertainment world, my music would suffer. I just feel that I have more to say with my music than by going on a series of talk shows.”
Enya’s now familiar style continued to resonate with her fans. Her 1995 album The Memory of Trees, featured the song “Anywhere Is,” an upbeat tune which reached number seven as a single in Britain. Washington Post ’s Mike Joyce wrote of the album, “The vocal textures add to the glistening luster and the rolling momentum of the opening (and title) track; they create the illusion of a one-woman choir on several ballads; and they make the occasional leap from English to Gaelic verse as seamless as it is enchanting.” Elysa Gardner of Rolling Stone wrote, “Even the instrumental tracks seem to carry soothing hidden messages.” However, Enya’s work did draw some detractors as well. “Enya has her critics, who call her work soporific, pretty, tinkling, essentially little more than a superior form of elevator music…,” Gritten wrote. “Even neutral observers find it remarkable that she had achieved so much success.”
Enya and Nicky Ryan made albums with a distinctive sound by going beyond standard instrumentation. They sometimes invested days in sonic experiments that didn’t work. Overdubs often consisted of odd combinations of sounds, such as piano, synthesizer, harp and violin, layered over one another as a painter might do with paint. Reverb has been a key element. Layering of sounds sometimes required Enya to play the same part dozens of times. And some songs have the effect of 100 Enya voices singing in chorus.
In 1997, Enya released Paint the Sky With Stars, a greatest-hits compilation. Billboard’s Larry Flick wrote of “Only If,” one of the songs on the album, “Enya delivers yet another great single. ‘Only If is as peaceful and memorably melodic as any other of her inspirational, soul-purifying songs, which traditionally are etched with a unique combination of background voices with drums and violin lines. It’s a combination that makes all her songs seem antique, almost, if not angelic.” J.D. Considine of the Los Angeles Times commented: “What makes Enya’s albums so entrancing is their ability to articulate emotion, to take the listener deep within the heart of her melodies. For all their quiet, there’s often tremendous depth to the songs….”
Paint the Sky With Stars was Enya’s only diversion during the five years it took to complete her next album, A Day Without Rain. As before, she collaborated exclusively with Nicky and Roma Ryan. She began by working completely alone. Sequestered in her castle home she sat at her piano and let her emotions and ideas flow freely. “I just let it happen. I like to treat [songwriting] like it takes me on a journey,” Enya told Los Angeles Times ’s Considine.She went on to say that writing the melody is “the most exciting moment” of the process. Her next step was to play her instrumentais for the Ryans. “I’m quite anxious at this point,” she told Billboard’s Flick, “because it really is an act of laying your soul bare. The good thing is that there’s tremendous trust between the three of us. We are always as gentle with each other as we are honest.” Roma Ryan then began adding lyrics to the melodies, at the same time Nicky and Enya began the long process of developing the arrangements.
Some fans find it hard to understand why Enya stays so far out of the limelight. For most performers, the kind of success Enya has experienced would have been accompanied with non-stop interviews, TV appearances and touring. But Enya’s personal life remains a mystery to her fans. “People don’t know what my everyday life is about because I keep that to myself,” Enya told People ’s Helligar, “There are lots of artists who are bigger than their music, but for me it’s the other way about.”
Enya has sold 44 million albums since 1988’s Watermark. “Enya is one of those artist who was not created by the record industry; she’s an artist in the purest sense of the word,” Reprise’s Howie Klein told Billboard’s Flick. “Her music appeals to people across the spectrum. We’re devoted to maintaining her fan base and elevating her to even greater levels of success.”
Although Enya has never taken her music on the road, both she and Ryan considered the possibility after the release of 2000’s A Day Without Rain. Ryan told Billboard’s Flick, “The issue is—and has always been—finding an effective and realistic way of mounting the music in a live setting without compromising its integrity.” For Enya’s part she says the idea of a live performance “is quite exciting.” As she told Flick, “I’ve long wanted to be in the same room as the fans and share my music.”
Enya Atlantic, 1987; reissued as The Celts, Reprise, 1992.
Watermark, Geffen, 1988.
Shepherd Moons, Reprise, 1991.
The Memory of Trees, Reprise, 1995.
Paint the Sky with Stars (greatest-hits compilation) Reprise, 1997.
A Day Without Rain, Reprise, 2000.
DeCurtis, Anthony, James Henke, and Holly George-Warren,The Rolling Stone Album Guide, 1992.
Rees, Dafydd and Luke Crampton, Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, DK Publishing, 1996.
Billboard, December 6, 1997, p.85; October 28, 2000, p.1.
Los Angeles Times, January 7, 1996; January 5, 1998.
Musician, May 1996.
New York Times, December 11, 1997, p. E3.
People, January 29, 1996.
Rolling Stone, January 25, 1996, p. 73.
Washington Post, January 7, 1996, p.G10.
Additional information was provided by Reprise Records publicity materials, 2001.
Born: Eithne Ní Bhraonáin; Gweedore, County Donegal, Ireland, 17 May 1961
Genre: New Age
Best-selling album since 1990: Shepherd Moons (1991)
Hit songs since 1990: "Orinoco Flow," "Book of Days," "Anywhere Is"
Enya was raised in a musical family: her mother was a musician and her father, Leo Brennan, was the leader of the famous Irish band Slieve Foy. She began her musical training at an early age with a grounding in classical piano. Her uncles, brothers, and sisters formed the famous Irish band Clannad in 1976. Joining Clannad in 1980, Enya gained invaluable musical experience for two years before leaving and working with lyricist Roma Ryan and producer Nicky Ryan. With them she recorded various television and film scores, stints that led to a score for the BBC-TV series, The Celts. It was the soundtrack to this film that became her first album, Enya, released in 1986.
In 1988 Enya and the Ryans released the album Watermark, which became a huge success. The first single, "Orinoco Flow," which is mainly sung in Gaelic, soared to number one in the U.K. and helped sell 8 million copies of the album worldwide. This track captures the essence of Enya's sound, one of undulating, trancelike, melodic themes interwoven with modal harmonies. What is striking in this song is the expanse of layered vocal parts that fuses Celtic themes to a new age style. Engaging in her vocal delivery, Enya was able to find a niche in the pop market with a freshness and sense of personal searching that was unique.
Her next album, Shepherd Moons (1991), surpassed the commercial success of her previous album. This album entered the U.S. charts at number seven, remaining there for almost four years and selling more than 10 million copies. Like Watermark, this album maintains a romantic Celtic feel through its highly polished production. The folk references are cushioned in waves of hushed vocal parts underpinned by soothing and seductive rhythms. With its mix of ballads, Shepherd Moons fuses a variety of popular styles; rock creeps into the best-known song on the album, "Caribbean Blue."
Taking almost four years to complete, her next album, The Memory of Trees (1995), entered the U.S. charts at number nine and sold more than 2 million copies in its first year. By this stage in her career, Enya had established herself as a New Age Celtic artist with a contemporary flavor who appealed to a more adult public. With Memory of Trees, her style had crystallized into a form of expression that was both sensual and spiritual. This album draws on a range of themes that are at once global, Druidic, and neo-pagan, with strains of Latin and Gaelic verse woven into the textural fabric of the melodic material. Songs such as "Hope Has a Place" meld simple folk phrases with lush layers of instrumentation. Always at the center of these tracks is Enya's voice, pristine, tranquil, and elegantly pitched.
A greatest hits collection entitled Paint the Sky with Stars: The Best of Enya (1997) features two new songs. Consisting of an assortment of Enya's songs, this album captures the spirit of her style, highlighting the consistency of her musical style over more than a decade. Her next album, A Day Without Rain, came out at the end of 2000. It lived up to the expectations of millions of fans by delivering an intimate and soothing quality that one associates with Enya. Lasting only thirty-five minutes, this album builds around melancholic phrases and melodramatic gestures that at times overpower her vocal parts, most notably in songs such as "Fallen Embers." Throughout the album Enya not only sings but also plays all the instruments and has insisted in press interviews that none of her material was sampled—hence the time span of five years to produce the album. In many ways this album lives up to the standard of Enya's earlier work and delivers what her fans are looking for: a collection of songs that are beautifully melodious and skilfully arranged and performed.
Fusing strands of traditional Irish folk music with classical and popular elements, Enya's musical idiom has played a major role in shaping the direction of New Age music. Writing and performing much of her material, she was able to find a niche for herself in the pop industry during the 1980s and 1990s, selling millions of records worldwide. As one of the top female artists of her generation, she possesses a warmth in expression that is enchanting and appealing. Enya's inimitably ethereal voice is set within rich arrangements and glossy productions that conjure an aura of calm and peace. She has earned her reputation as a leader in Celtic New Age music.
Enya (The Celts) (Atlantic, 1987); Watermark (Reprise, 1988); Shepherd Moons (Reprise, 1991); Frog Prince (Alex, 1995); The Memory of Trees (Reprise, 1995); Paint the Sky with Stars: The Best of Enya (Reprise, 1997); Storms in Africa (WEA, 1998); A Day Without Rain (Reprise, 2000).