Rock Era Magazine continues its journey of exploring and analyzing Loreena McKennitt’s music. The previous parts contained Loreena’s most celebrated releases: “The Mask and Mirror”, and “The Book of Secrets”. While, this one will discuss the final part of Loreena’s musical journey project, “”An Ancient Muse”” (2006).
An Ancient Muse (2006)
The latest volume of a project she describes as “musical travel writing”. This time, the journey takes her in search of the Celts’ easternmost paths, from the plains of Mongolia to the kingdom of King Midas and the Byzantine Empire. Along the way, she muses on the concepts of home, of travel in all its incarnations, of the cultural intermingling that underpins human history and our universal legacies of conflict and hope.”
“An Ancient Muse” is an influential release by Loreena as it comes after long years of absence. This is Loreena’s most orient-influenced album, in other words, it is closer to the orient and far-east: Standing between borders, smelling Mediterranean’s salty airflow, recalling the ancient travels through the desert.
She traces the mutual humanitarian roads between different nations, different civilizations: the glory of Celts, the outstanding Asian Mongolia, the breathtaking heritage China, the great stone monuments of Jordan’s Petra and the marvelous nobility of the Byzantium empire.
This album has a special position in my heart. It is the first release that I attached to my MA thesis. Although the first draft of this article was finished on the 7th of August, I decided to publish it on my 25th birthday as I was reborn and survived from death by Loreena’s voice. I decided to do something different with this review, I won’t tackle An Ancient Muse tracks by track! However, I decided to follow a different order. The first time I’ve heard it through a YouTube playlist, the tracks were not ordered correctly, but I found myself attached to this chaos.
“Beneath a Phrygian Sky” is the first track to talk about. It is inspiring soulful music with slow-tempo style and harmonies musical tunes from each instrument especially Bass guitar. This song took me back to 2015 when I went to the seashore alone in Alexandria for the first time, I looked at the sea and let the salty water touch the open wounds on my wrist, felt the sense of scorching but a sense of self-healing, my mind called the time of reading a modern literary work called Flight of Discovery by Jessica Steele, I read how much the heroin try to give herself a stand and new chance in life through unexpected journey to the lands of history and glory, Peru. Loreena’s voice through the song reflects the feelings of travelers who combine their inner fears and horrors with the blue waters of the sea.
The upcoming song is “Caravanserai”, in my point of view, it’s one of the best songs in the album. It starts with the fusion of Oud and Qanun which made my mind wander to the traditional Oud parts, especially the iconic Iraqi Oud player Naseer Shammah. “Caravanserai” is a type of building that heavily existed in the countries of the silk-road. Merchants traveled back and forth with their products, spices, and traditions. The main goal of this building is providing travelers with rest, food, and water.
In Egypt, we used to have guest houses for travelers as Egypt was a trade market for Asia and Africa due to its geographical location. There’s a lot of historical buildings that carry the same architectural style, especially in old Cairo as El Moez Street and Sultan Al Ghuri Complex. The calm instrumental intro reflects getting ready for travel and when Loreena starts singing, you can trace the beginning of the travel, calm feelings of being in the journey in late night and early morning, merging between traditional Celtic sounds and oriental beats. The harmony between instruments balanced the sense of journey from the North to Asia.
There are also strange feelings the traveler earned which is longing to home, to return to the land where he raised. The track could be considered as a continuation for Loreena’s Sufi-influences journey as she mentioned the city of Konya in the “Ancient Muse” booklet. Konya is an important landmark for the Sufis as it is also known as “The City of Rumi.” Next is the album’s intro! The album opens with “Incantation”. It is a short instrumental intro as a warming up. The music gives a warm impression as standing on the shore watching the running water crashed with the stones. It is like calling honestly from the bottom of the heart the whole humanitarian heritage.
“Incantation” is followed by “Kecharitomene”. The combination between the closing sounds of “Incantation” and the intro of “Kecharitomene” is mind-blowing! A long instrumental track with a variety of movements and employed instruments: Reflecting the long roads between different cities and kingdoms, the smell of deep long seas, the shades of mountains, the green, icy hills and the excitement of the journey. The sounds of beats mirror the steps of camels through the deserts of the orient, the sandstorm, the breeze of the east, and the glory of the sands!
Inspired by themes of love, rebirth, and life journey in general, Loreena introduced a beautiful memorable song “Never Ending Road”. The riffs are nocturnal, emotional and touching. One of the greatest classical styles Loreena ever performed, “Penelope’s Song”. Loreena perfectly succeeds in creating her image for Homer’s Odyssey. Penelope was the wife of Odysseus who struggled for long years to reach home after the Trojan War. Loreena set an emotional brokenhearted musical portrait for Penelope’s feelings while waiting for her man’s return and keeping herself faithful and loyal for her man. I know, how it is hard and painful to keep faith to someone who is absent, his absence is a sharp blade cuts the heartstrings ever moment, the heart full of scorching pain that has no cure, only his presence is the cure.
The mood of the song highly stunning, just I imagined a beautiful lady stands before a mirror for seconds, remembering her man, then fall on her knees and ask God for his comeback! I, myself, find myself in this situation every day. I don’t want to make so personal, but I touched this song from another perspective, On 17 July 2019, he decided to depart ways away from my life! I felt that my neck was dismembered away my body; I touched the open veins, the destroyed nerves! Heavy stony silent moments! Directly, I gathered the ashes of my soul and isolated myself in my room for a week! Kept listening to the album he recommended to me “A Book of Secrets” for more than 30 hours till I decided to direct my energy to discover the gems in Loreena’s music!
I saw her in my room, I listened to her voice in the dawn, I got telepathic ideas from the far distance, I traced her reading and did further readings! I remembered 1 phrase he used to call me in our first friendship year, “literature girl”! I can’t deny that I am really wishing him a good life, and I wish, he could read the article one day! Through those 3 years, he was the man I had dreamt of, but he never accepted that position in my heart!
From the breathtaking mood of Odyssey to a tuneful instrumental interlude based on the traditional oriental pieces, the song is called “Sacred Shabbat”. Moving to “The English Ladye And The Knight”, I liked the expressive sounds narrate the stories of soldiers who leave their families, lovers, and home for going to take part in battles in strange lands. The lyrics of the song are based on a poem by Sir Walter Scott. The song is like a break from the victorious glory of the orient.
The final song is “Gates of Istanbul”. By deep amusing oriental melody and shining sounds of Qanun, Nai, Oud and Violin, the beats of the song somehow influenced by the traveling tribes in the deserts. I imagined the slow, balanced steps of horses and camels of traveling tribes. I think referring to Istanbul so symbolic. Istanbul is always a symbol for cultural exchange, tolerance, it stands one foot in the east and one foot in the west, also the city itself is connecting Asia with Europe. It is known for its cultural and religious acceptance, warm hospitality!
I knew the importance of Istanbul culturally through my mom as she is fascinated by the Oriental Mediterranean glory and she reads a lot about the history and civilization of the Turks since I was 10 years old and she knows Turkish too. There is always a colorful, pure religious-cultural consistent. Turkey is known also with Mevlevi Order which influenced by mysticism.
As I mentioned before, “An Ancient Muse” is the last stage of Loreena’s musical travel journey. She could set up her travel journey-map as the old travelers, she marked her original homeland Ireland and her country Canada as a departure point for her. She traces the glory of the Celts and she used her history as a guideline. Next, she touched the standpoints between Ireland and the other civilizations like the Asians and the Europeans.
After the Journey!
“The Visit” was the first stage in the history: calling the traces of the ancestors and greeting the glories of the past people, praising the tradition and the spirituality of the Irish, longing to nature, and portraying the glimpses of literature. There was a beautiful variety of beats and styles in the music.
“The Mask and Mirror”, we start to see the hybrid vibes in Loreena’s music through the oriental melodies, there is a beautiful spiritual journey between different times and spaces. I like how Loreena uses her super talents as a singer and a composer to balance between the physical journey and the spiritual one. She used well-composed tunes to reflect the nature of every topic and every place that emphasizes the mind and imagination. Also, I liked how she started to give wide spaces to oriental taste and spoke up about the forgiven nature of all religions and stressed the mutual background. Plus, she gave a place for the orient, and for the Middle East. And, she gave proof that her music is like a garden, a sky welcomes all arts, cultures and spiritual tendencies as Mysticism, Sufism, and Judaism.
Regarding “The Book of Secrets,” it is the record of the trapped and un-narrated stories from ancient times. We have records for what happened in the past, but there are a lot of hidden narratives we lost, and by losing them, we lost a vital part from the truth, from the full image. What has left some scattered pieces, scattered stories as a puzzle!
The past was an experience that everyone tries to understand according to his background, beliefs, emotions, and personal experience. There is no one exact or one correct interpretation for the past, there is no final answer for the hidden truth of those secrets. The secret is you! Your past, your present, your inner self, how to bring up yourself spiritually! It is your own story reflected in parts from the previous.
Finally comes “An Ancient Muse,” it is like the climax and the end! Musically, it is the climax of the musical variety. You can trace that it is the closest part to the orient thematically, and soundly. It’s experiencing the adventurers of travel internally and externally. While tracing the whole 4 albums, you can see that Loreena was inspired with different arts-related to Muses as dances which are existed in the harmonious beating riffs, epic poetry expressed in “Dante’s Prayer” and “Penelope’s Song”, ballads and songs as “Two Trees”, historical journeys as in “Night Ride Across the Caucasus”, Hymns as “Mystic’s Dream”, and Mask! Thalia, which is one of the muses was known with her MASK! – The Mask and Mirror – and mentioning the location of the stars and the moon in the sky, astronomy in ancient meaning! Compass and Maps! Isn’t that beautiful?!
I hope, my analysis is well accepted by Loreena McKennitt, and her fans, and thank you, everyone, for your support.
Written by: Rana Atef