Loreena McKennitt is one of the most idiosyncratic musicians I’ve ever discovered. Born and raised in Canada, she is a singer, songwriter, harpist and composer. McKennitt started singing at a young age and after attending an exhibition of the Celtic artifacts in Venice in 1991, she found herself enamored with Celtic music. In my research of her, it seems she found herself drawn to the sounds and rhythms of an ancient muse.
I’ve learned that, like me, a lot of people listening to McKennitt’s music think to themselves that there’s no way she can be from Canada, as the melodies she composes are very specific to Celtic Culture. Well, we couldn’t be more wrong. In a short documentary entitled “No Journey’s End,” McKennitt states that she considers her music to be “world music,” and explains to us that Canada is a multicultural country and has been for a quite some time. Listening to her music today, I understand that sentiment. While her music transports me to many different countries worldwide, the two countries that stand out most are Ireland and India. I simply imagine the famous ‘Taj Mahal’ or ‘The Victoria Memorial,’ and can visualize camels strutting along the desert sand while Indian dancers move their hips in a sensuous way as their hands float delicately in the air. In other words, it’s easy to use imagery while attending to McKennitt’s music. “The Gates of Istanbul,” a song from her most recent album “An Ancient Muse,” is one of my favorites. It was on this album that I learned it wasn’t just her Celtic tone that captivated me, but also the lyrics behind what she was feeling. For me, when a song is captivating, it’s easy to get lost in the beat and disregard the lyrics. She’s talented in portraying lyrics that capture an emotion and developing a tune that enhances that emotion. Through watching her interviews, it was clear to me that she was determined to emphasize both. Her albums are structured in a way that makes it seem like they can’t possibly exist outside of the Middle East or Europe. Most of her songs are lyric-based, but there are a few songs that aren’t. One of my favorite non-lyrical songs from her “Parallel Dreams” album is “Huron ‘Beltane’ Fire Dance.” When listening to this song, all I can visualize is a burning fireplace in the middle of a beach in Northern Ireland, with lush green mountains surrounding me. I picture my friends and I holding hands and dancing around the fireplace on a cool summers’ night while drinking cold beers. Perhaps some chanting and prayer take claim to this space as well.
I am, by no means, an expert in defining which songs belong to a specific region, but it seems to me that McKennitt has a natural talent of doing just that. I listen to one song and I’m transported to Europe. I listen to another song and I’m transported to the Middle East. It is especially true that during this pandemic, I find myself delving deeper into her artistry. I usually sit down on a grassy patch, close my eyes and meditate to the music, making me feel as though I’m a million miles away from home. In this interview that I speak so highly of, McKennitt states that she studied Spanish History in school and that it heavily influenced the way our western civilization developed in the areas of agriculture, architecture and literature. When I first heard her music, I didn’t think it was possible for Spanish culture to be interlaced into her music, due to the fact that I simply didn’t hear it. However, since listening more closely, I can now hear it. Little by little, more evidence of other cultures come into play when delving deeper into her lyrics and tunes. Another fascinating feature regarding McKennitt’s music are the instrumental pieces to her songs, which carry that of great importance. Some may even argue that the instruments take first place over her vocals. I personally think it’s a happy medium, but that’s just my opinion. There is certainly no mistaking the vast display of instruments on these records. Although she plays the piano and harp during her concerts, we can’t forget about the full orchestras that accompany her and magnify her vocals to make her music sound that much better. I give big props to the people behind the scenes. Job well done!