Enya Was Ahead of Her Time

Words by: Matthew Griffiths

Enya is an artist that has managed to stay relevant in a way you probably wouldn’t expect.

The popular Enya song May It Be featured on the Lord of The Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Soundtrack back in 2001. In fact, it was specifically written for the movie. Something in her music was just extremely effective at telling the story of the mythical creatures wandering “Middle Earth”, a fantasy environment that had elements comparable to medieval times. It should come as no surprise, one of Enya’s earliest solo projects was soundtrack work for the 1987 BBC documentary, The Celts.

One might think that creating music to suit these themes wouldn’t require much modern production. Just hearing the word “Celt” alone takes me back to my school days, where my 7 year old self would endure the Year 3 History class topic of Celts, Romans and Queen Boadicea. Surely, any modern-day music inspired by that time would come under the extremely niche label of “Bardcore”, in which musicians re-create popular songs using Medieval-sounding instruments such as the Celtic Harp, flutes, whistles, and hurdy gurdys (I had to look them up, too). There’s even a bardcore version of Harry Styles – Watermelon Sugar which is quite amusing.

However, this explicitly old style is not what you get with Enya. She and her producer, Nicky Ryan, used synthesisers, intricate vocal layering, and keyboard stacks, including use of the Roland D-50 synthesiser – a synth also used in the music of Jean-Michel Jarre, PrinceSting, and Michael Jackson. According to Bobby Blues, famous uses of the Roland D50 are found across songs on two of Enya’s early albums – Watermark (“Orinoco Flow”, “Cursum Perficio”, “Storms In Africa, Exile”, “The Longships”), and The Memory of Trees (“On My Way Home”).

In a 1989 interview in Sonics The Music Magazine (Australia), Nicky and Enya explained parts of their recording process for Watermark. While recording vocal layers, Enya and Nicky would use two 32 track Mitsubishi’s, often using up to 200 tracks, bouncing the audio many times to create room for even more vocal layers.

Enya and Nicky’s unique production created a sound that inspired many artists to come. Another female artist who comes to mind when thinking of Enya’s influence is Imogen Heap. She’s an artist who is also very much involved in the production side of her music, as well as having a lot of work go into her vocal processing. Her song “Hide And Seek” featured heavily manipulated vocals that were sampled by Pop/R&B artist Jason Derulo on his hit song Whatcha Say in 2009.

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Enya, in similar fashion, has also had a strong presence in R&B music through sampling. Her song Boadicea(which was used for the BBC documentary, The Celts) according to whosampled.com, has been sampled 40 times, perhaps most notably by The Fugees on Ready or Not, and on Mario Winans and P.Diddy’s I Don’t Wanna Know.

More recently, “Boadicea” was sampled on a track by the elderly gentlemen rap duo Pete & Bas called Plugged In which has racked up over 7 million views on YouTube. It’s clear that Enya’s music has stood the test of time.

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