Spanning Spanish, Celtic and Moroccan influences, Loreena’s fifth album follows paths of inspiration from Ireland to Santiago de Compostella to the Middle East.
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“I have come to use the pan-Celtic history, which spans from 500 BC to the present, as a creative springboard”, says Loreena McKennitt. “The music I am creating is a result of travelling down that road and picking up all manner of themes and influences, which may or may not be overtly Celtic in nature. With The Mask And Mirror I began my journey in Galicia, the Celtic corner of Spain, and I moved on from there as I continued on my own historical and musical pilgrimage. I looked back and forth through the window of 15th century Spain, through the hues of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, and was drawn into a fascinating world: history, religion, cross-cultural fertilization.”
Self-produced and boasting an exotic palette of instrumentation from cello and uillean pipes to dumbeg, tabla and oud, Loreena’s fifth album was released in 1994 and has since sold several million copies worldwide. Spanning Spanish, Celtic and Moroccan influences, it follows paths of inspiration from Ireland to Santiago de Compostella to the Middle East. Accompanying musical settings of poems by St. John Of The Cross and Shakespeare are eclectic, richly-textured originals including a seductively dramatic “The Mystic’s Dream” and “Marrakesh Night Market”.
In its journeys, it examines, says Loreena, the questions that echo down the centuries: “Who was God? What is religion, what spirituality? What was revealed and what was concealed … and what was the mask and what the mirror?”
I looked back and forth through the window of 15th century Spain, through the hues of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, and was drawn into a fascinating world: history, religion, cross-cultural fertilization…From the more familiar turf of the west coast of Ireland, through the troubadours of France, crossing over the Pyrenees and then to the west through Galicia, down through Andalusia and past Gibraltar to Morocco…The Crusades, the pilgrimage to Santiago, Cathars, the Knights Templar, the Sufis from Egypt, One Thousand and One Nights in Arabia, the Celtic sacred imagery of trees, the Gnostic Gospels…who was God? and what is religion, what spirituality? What was revealed and what was concealed…and what was the mask and what the mirror?
THE MYSTIC’S DREAM
January 24, 1993, Granada, Spain: evening…lights across the city embrace the body of the Alhambra; the smells of woodsmoke and food hang in the narrow streets. Rambled around the Moorish section of the city; picked up a little gold mirror, an incense burner, a tiny bottle of perfume…Reading Idries Shah’s book The Sufis, prefaced by Robert Graves. “…a secret tradition behind all religious and philosophical systems, Sufis have significantly influenced the East and West…They believe not that theirs is a religion, but that it is religion….The ‘common sufi’ may be as common in the East as in the West, and may come dressed as a merchant, a lawyer, a housewife, anything…to be in the world, but not of it, free from ambition, greed, intellectual pride, blind obedience to custom, or awe of persons higher in rank.”…It appears there may be an association with the Druidic order of the Celts.
July, 1993: learn that Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is a Qawali Sufi.
November 26, 1993: Idries Shah on Rumi: “the union of the mind and intuition which brings about illumination, and the development which the Sufis seek, is based upon love…”
March 20, 1993: spent a wonderful evening at a “café” in the middle of the desert…the address was “8 miles west of Rissani”…two brothers had created an exotic oasis with their families, palm trees and wheat patches…it felt like a settlement of Eskimos in an expanse of snow. We had been there in daylight and they invited us back to hear their music, but when we returned in the evening, we got lost trying to find our tracks among the many in the sand. We saw some lights ahead; the brothers were on top of their roof waving lanterns, signalling us home.
THE BONNY SWANS
October, 1990, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland: have been striving to create the pieces and shape of The Visit. Brought various books of lyrics, poetry and other influences with me: the Unicorn Tapestries, The Golden Bough. Set some traditional lyrics to music; I am drawn to the harp motif and the essence of a fable in which a girl, drowned by her jealous sister, returns first as a swan and then is transformed into a harp…The countryside of County Monaghan would make an ideal location for a visual interpretation, with its lakes, forests and rolling countryside.
THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
May, 1993, Stratford: have been reading through the poetry of 15th century Spain, and I find myself drawn to one by the mystic writer and visionary St. John of the Cross; the untitled work is an exquisite, richly metaphoric love poem between himself and his god. It could pass as a love poem between any two at any time…His approach seems more akin to early Islamic or Judaic works in its more direct route of communication to his god…I have gone over three different translations of the poem, and am struck by how much a translation can alter our interpretation. Am reminded that most holy scriptures come to us in translation, resulting in a diversity of views.
MARRAKESH NIGHT MARKET
March 16, 1993: Arrived tonight in Marrakesh and am staying on the edge of the market. It is Ramadan and there is heightened activity all around. I am struck by the hooded features of men as they pass through the lights and shadows: they look monk-like. Horses, carriages, cars, bicycles and thousands of people are embroiled in the activities of the night…a cacophony of sound. I retreat to a rooftop café to watch while sipping mint tea…many circles of twenty or so people are scattered around the market, each involved in their own drama of music, storytelling, monkeys on men’s shoulders, or cobras being coaxed to “dance” on rugs; “magic” concoctions of bone, seeds, stones and spices are sold…women are veiled to a great degree…I am struck by the sense of intrigue the environment creates; as much is concealed as is revealed…
March 23, 1993, Morocco: Ramadan; I wake up early to catch my flight home, and at 5:30 a.m. hear men chanting in the mosque, one of the most moving and primitive sounds I have ever heard. They are calling their God. I think, when have I heard this before?
November 21, 1988, St-Benoit-du-Lac, Québec: have just arrived at this Benedictine monastery in the Eastern Townships of Québec. It was the first snowfall today, and the brothers were out walking along the long lane as I approached…hooded figures slowly making their way to Mass as the snow fell like blessings. I followed the sound of the bells to vespers.
November 24, 1988: I have wondered about who these men are who have made their way here, who they were before they came. How did each connect to God, and how did it differ from each other’s journey, and from mine?…one red-headed lad looked like he could be my brother…I recall speaking with a brother in Glenstal Abbey in Ireland last year about the many and varied paths that had brought them to that place of worship and reflection.
March 19, 1993, Morocco: made my way to the thousand-foot sand dune past Erfoud, near the Algerian desert, and rose at dawn to catch the sun rise. I don’t think I have ever felt something so simple and yet so powerful. I wondered if the first sunrise was just like this.
January, 1992: Just performed in Santiago de Compostella in the Galician area of Spain…misty and lush as we arrived from more arid areas of the country; clearly Celtic territory in the language and music, and a place I must visit again soon…We arrived a day early; band et al went for a wonderful Sunday lunch and then wandered over to the cathedral to observe the wonderful faces on the Portico.
May, 1992, Santiago de Compostella (St. James in the Field of Stars): had occasion to return to Galicia and Santiago sooner than I’d thought…I learned the story behind the city. Supposedly the remains of St. James arrived mysteriously in the village of Padròn (which we visited…lovely line of trees along the waterway leading to the place where the relics were found) and interred here in Santiago…I picked up a CD collection of music emanating from the pilgrimage route to Santiago, as well as a CD by Spanish group Els Trobadors…wonderful feeling to this music.
May, 1993: Now studying liner notes, books and pieces of music, putting together a clearer picture of Santiago in the years 900 to 1500 when it rivalled Jerusalem and Rome as a pilgrimage destination, playing host to a motley tide of humanity pursuing both religious and more earthy goals. It was also the site of unprecedented cross-cultural fertilization between the Christian, Jewish and Moorish communities. When I heard this piece, I was struck by its Semitic tone, and realised that, even in the area of music, the three communities were influencing each other.
CÉ HÉ MISE LE ULAINGT? / THE TWO TREES
October 6, 1993, Stratford: browsing through Yeats’ poetry and came across “The Two Trees” with its lovely sentiment of looking into one’s own self for goodness, and the struggle to avoid looking into the glass of cynicism…It strikes me, now, to have a strong Sufi connection in that way…the imagery is quintessentially Irish and reminds me, for some reason, of the ending of John Huston’s film The Dead: barren countryside, leafless trees and the starlings crying.
March 19, 1982, Stratford: have just begun rehearsals for the Stratford production of The Tempest…I am singing the part of Ceres, goddess of agriculture, in the masque…enchanted by the magic and function of masque as a conduit to the worlds of the gods and nature. The cast had an interesting discussion with a psychologist on the nature of Caliban and what qualified as “the civilized world”…
April, 1993, Stratford: once again, I am drawn to Shakespeare for insights into the human condition…Have not created the piece relative to “the masque”, but rather chose Prospero’s closing speech, which is delivered with the sense of the actor removing his mask as an artist…the illusion has ended, and reality and god are left for us to determine for ourselves…
Produced by Loreena McKennitt
Co-producing assistance from Brian Hughes and Jeff Wolpert
L.M.: Vocals, harp, accordion, dumbeg, piano, keyboards, synthesizer, organ pipes
Brian Hughes: Electric and acoustic guitars, oud, balalaika, electric sitar (“The Mystic’s Dream”, “The Bonny Swans”, “The Dark Night Of The Soul”, “Marrakesh Night Market”, “Santiago”)
Rick Lazar: Percussion, drums, dumbek, udu drum (“The Mystic’s Dream”, “The Bonny Swans”, “Marrakesh Night Market”, “Santiago”)
George Koller: Bass, tamboura, cello, esraj (“The Mystic’s Dream”, “The Bonny Swans”, “The Dark Night Of The Soul”, “Marrakesh Night Market”, “Full Circle”, “Santiago”, “Cé Hé Mise Le Ulaingt?/The Two Trees”, “Prospero’s Speech”)
Ravi Naimpally: Tabla (“The Mystic’s Dream”)
Abraham Tawfik: Nai, oud (“The Mystic’s Dream”)
Anne Bourne: Cello, backing vocals (“The Mystic’s Dream”, “The Bonny Swans”)
Patrick Hutchinson: Uillean pipes (“The Mystic’s Dream”, “Cé Hé Mise Le Ulaingt?/The Two Trees”)
Victoria Scholars Choir: Vocals (“The Mystic’s Dream”)
Donal Lunny: Bouzouki, bodhran (“The Bonny Swans”, “Santiago”)
Hugh Marsh: Fiddle (“The Bonny Swans”, “The Dark Night Of The Soul”, “Marrakesh Night Market”, “Santiago”)
Al Cross: Drums (“Marrakesh Night Market”)
Nigel Eaton: Hurdy-gurdy (“Santiago”)
Ofra Harnoy: Cello (“Cé Hé Mise Le Ulaingt?/The Two Trees”)