Atypical song like “Storms in Africa” on Enya’s “Watermark” album has the feel of a boy soprano singing hymns in Latin against a new-age instrumental setting with backing vocals from a pop girl group. In fact, the mystery syllables are neither Latin nor even CocteauTwin-ese, but Gaelic.
The elusive and entrancing “Watermark” is not a likely record to be nearing the 500,000 sales mark just two months after its release. You can add Ireland’s Enya to the “Extremely Unlikely Success Stories” file, thanks to her gentle music’s surprising across-the-board appeal to new age, alternative rock and even Top 40 radio formats.
Only four of the eight vocal tracks on the album are in Gaelic, her first language. The rest--including the hit single “Orinoco Flow"--are in English, but for reasons having more to do with musical feel than international chart appeal, she says.
“I know by the melody if a song is going to be in Gaelic or English,” says the diminutive, sharply dressed singer who writes and sings all her melodies. (Lyrics come from writing partner Roma Ryan, wife of Enya’s manager/producer/mentor, Nicky Ryan.)
“I can express myself better in Gaelic, much as with anyone and their first language. But there’s no way I could sing ‘On Your Shore’ in Gaelic. It would sound so corny, it would be horrible. There has to be a different feel to a song to be sung in Gaelic.”
Enya’s U.S. success may seem even more unexpected given the lack of same afforded to the group she was in before going solo: Clannad, a long-respected band composed largely of other members of her immediate family, with which she had a less-than-amicable split.
Clannad had “sort of settled into a formula that was very boring,” says Nicky Ryan, who was that band’s manager before quitting to take the helm of Enya’s career. “I brought Enya into the group, hoping that it would add new textures--and it did. But two years later they were back into the same old routine again, and I got bored. We fought about this and eventually split. And because I put Enya into the band, I offered to take her out. Six years later, here we are.”
And now that Enya’s success has wildly surpassed that of Clannad, which kept her input to a minimum, is there a feeling of vindication?
“You think we might have a certain feeling of revenge?” says Ryan. “Well, I might put it that way. . . . I don’t believe Enya feels that way at all; she just sat down and wrote the music and (for her) it’s all water under the bridge. But from myself and Roma’s point of view . . . we do feel like gloating for a while.”