The Gates of Istanbul

It is easy for me to say that Loreena Mckennitt is by far one of the most idiosyncratic musicians I’ve ever come across. 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 to an ancient muse.

To put it bluntly, she’s my kind of woman.

From what I’ve discovered, a lot of people look at Mckennitt and think to themselves exactly what I thought when I first heard her music; there’s no way she could be from Canada, as the melodies she composes are far too diverse. 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 quite some time. Listening to her music nowadays, I am more able of reason with that statement. 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.’ I can easily picture camels strutting along the desert sand while Indian dancers move their hips in a sexy way as their hands float delicately in the air. To sum up the aforementioned description, it’s easy to use imagery while attending to Mckennitt’s music. “The Gates of Istanbul” is the name to one of the songs on her more recent album entitled, “An Ancient Muse,” hence the title to this post. On this album, I learned it wasn’t just her celtic tone that captivated me, but also the lyrics behind what she was feeling in that moment. For me, when a song is captivating, it’s easy to get lost in the beat and disregard the lyrics. However, she’s talented in both portraying lyrics that capture an emotion and developing a tune that enhances that emotion. Through watching her interviews, it was clear that she was determined to emphasize both. Her albums are structured in a way that doesn’t 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 all-time 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 scattered about. I picture my friends and I holding hands and dancing around the fireplace on a cool summers’ night, while drinking beers. Perhaps some chanting and prayer take claim to this space as well. Again, more imagery.

By no means am I an expert in defining which songs belong to a specific region, nor will I pretend to be, but it seems to me that Mckennitt has a natural talent of doing just that. For instance, I listen to one song and I’m transported to Europe. I listen to another song and I’m transported to the Middle East. You see? It is especially true that during this pandemic, I find myself burrowing deeper into her artistry. I usually sit down on a grassy patch, close my eyes and meditate to the music, making it feel like I am a million miles away from reality. In the interview previously mentioned, 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 sing, I didn’t think it was possible for Spanish culture to be interlaced into her music, given 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 is 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!

To sum things up, Loreena Mckennitt is incredibly talented and certainly worth listening to!

Sorry, no actual video…just music.

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2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. When I read at the top that your blog is about your travels, I wondered what you would be writing about during a pandemic. You picked a perfect solution: writing about music that transports you. I am also a fan of Loreena McKennitt. My own kid loves Lindsey Stirling, have you heard her work? And I’m a big fan of the violin and viola from the group Black Violin. Stirling and Black Violin are not traditional, but are instead some pretty exciting explorations of violins. I need to follow your example and listen to more music while I’m trapped at home. It will help open up my world when I don’t actually get to travel.

    • Hi Crystal! Thank you for your comment on my post. I had to repost all my stuff due to technical difficulties but I traveled in 2018 and 2019. Yes, Lorenna Mckinnett is a gem for sure. I love Lindsey Stirling too and am a fan of hers. She’s incredibly talented and very unique. Music is definitely my escape from reality most of the time, as I think it is for a lot of people. I am happy to take others on my musical and travel adventures. 🙂

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