ENIGMA: MYSTERY REVEALED
For a very long time, and most especially since the album MCMXC a.D. was released, together with the release of the different singles by this "band?", the fans of this kind of music have been wondering about the true identity of the artists hiding behind this mysterious name. And it has been some time indeed before we could discover that the supposed band was not such, strictly speaking, since it was rather a one-person project by the artist of Romanian-Austrian origin Michael Cretu. And this project, which merely reflected in reality a long time dream by this musician, was but a way to establish a symbol within which the artist was able to develop a kind of experimental, creative music. As its creator himself claimed, "I wanted the music to speak for itself", that music were appreciated per se on the part of the audience, no matter who the artists were who were hiding behind this project. Like he says, "It is music for everybody. It's intellectual but it has a very simple naive feeling". And these are precisely the traits that have given it its international success. It is for this reason that, in the beginning, there were no references whatsoever to the artists behind the album, since Cretu's aim was to keep the artists behind the enigma, so that the audience could react to the music in a spontaneous way, which broke all the established rules in this sense. The mystery prompted all kinds of rumours about the authors of the project, mostly spread by anxious journalists, who speculated whether it was Alan Parsons or Mike Oldfield, among others, the enigmatic creators of this peculiar music.
However, Cretu had his intentions to keep an anonymous profile frustrated and was unable to perpetuate the mystery when the music of this first album was charged with plagiarism because it mixed Gregorian chant with hip-hop rhythms, and most specifically, at a legal level, Cretu and Virgin Germany had to face charges in court when the Munich based choir Kapelle Antiqua, claimed that they had used their own recordings of Gregorian chants in the album, namely in certain fragments of "Sadeness" (part 1) and "Mea Culpa" (part II) without permission, an issue that would be solved with an economic compensation, a retrospective appeal for such permission to BMG/Ariola and Polydor for the use of these choral fragments, and a written apology. Nevertheless, and from a legal point of view, no copyrights had in actual fact been infringed, since such recordings by the Kapelle Antiqua choir were actually of a public domain. Anyway, this incident sufficed to end up with the intended "enigma", and the names of Michael Cretu as the mind behind the project, as well as that of Sandra Cretu, his wife and closest collaborator, have come to the light, thus revealing the mystery behind the enigma. Yet, even if Cretu's wishes in this respect have been frustrated like this, the artist would at least win the case at court.
Michael Cretu, born in Bucarest in 1957, of an Austrian mother and a Romanian father, emigrated to Germany in 1975, where he studied at the Academy of Music in Frankfurt, where he graduated in Theory of Composition with first class honors. Cretu soon became a renowned studio musician specialized in the keyboards, also developing a noteworthy career arranging songs and as a producer. He then began a solo career with the release of his albums Moon, Light, and Flowers under the label Polygram in 1979, Legionare (1993) with the label Virgin, and Invisible Man, an English version of Die Chinesische Mauer (The Chinese Wall). Furthermore, he received several awards for his work as a producer, and collaborated with different internationally famous musicians, among them Mike Oldfield (Islands), Moti, Thiers and Sandra Lauer, an European pop singer whom he married in 1988, also having her own solo successful career. Currently settled in Ibiza (Spain) together with their twin children Nikita and Sebastian, born in 1995, Michael and Sandra continue to develop their respective musical careers both in the project Enigma and in other solo projects, or also collaborating with other musicians, while at the same time producing their own albums (and other musicians') at their own studio (A.R.T. Studios).
In their Enigma personas, their success came by the hand of this first album, MCMXC a.D, where, loyal to his idea that music was to become the protagonist instead of the artist, Cretu did not use his true name, nor did he credit anyone by his or her true names, nor did he allow any clear references to the people involved with the album. As can be heard in the opening of the album, what mattered was "the voice of Enigma" itself. After the legal trouble caused by the charges of plagiarism mentioned before, in the following albums there was no longer any reason to continue maintaining the silence about the names of the different artists who collaborated in the project, among whom, apart from Cretu and his wife Sandra, we can name Frank Peterson (F. Gregorian), who participated in the first album, though he soon separated from the project because of "artistic differences" with Cretu; David Fairstein, who has collaborated with Cretu since 1990; Andy Hard, (Angel), a German singer who has participated in "Return to Innocence" from the album ENIGMA 2, The Cross of Changes, besides other independent projects on the part of Sandra, as well as his own solo debut Welcome to the Soul Asylum, produced by Michael Cretu and Jens Gad; Peter Cornelius, an Austrian singer and songwriter with his own solo career since 1980, whose contribution was reflected in the guitar solo of "I Love You...I'll Kill You", of ENIGMA 2 The Cross of Changes, and in ENIGMA 3 Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!, with "The Child In Us", besides other collaborations outside Enigma; Jens Gad, an ex-singer, producer and guitarist whose most noteworthy contribution was the guitar parts of the album The Cross of Changes, besides other collaborations; and Julien Temple, a music video producer, among whose most remarkable videos are those he produced for "Sadeness", "Return to Innocence", and "Beyond the Invisible".
How is the Music by ENIGMA? Why its international success? Independently from the controversial opinions in this respect, the truth is that at the time Cretu succeeded in taking advantage of a series of auspicious circumstances as well as in creating something that sounded new in the musical panorama. In all this, the artist himself admits to the influence that had in him the work by such bands as Pink Floyd or Yes: "I always liked music like this, but I could no longer buy it, so I did it myself". By using samples with the sounds of flutes Peruvian-style plus Gregorian chants, the artist would then combine these with disco and pop rhythms to produce this first album MCMXC a.D, whose single "Sadeness" would stay at the top charts of 23 countries, while the album would sell some twelve million units, besides being number one in 41 countries, not to mention the many awards it was granted at an international level, including several gold and platinum awards in numerous countries, plus a triple platinum in the United States.
His success did not diminish with the release of a second album, Enigma 2, The Cross Of Changes, which appeared in the market in 1993, also selling in a record time about five million units, even if it did lose some fans as it omitted the use of Gregorian chants and Peruvian-style flutes that so characteristic had been of the previous album. Instead, the author chose to use a gradual progression produced by different instruments and musical styles of very varied ethnic origins, including Lapp chants, among other ethnic novelties, which would take the music by Enigma along a very different path from that taken in the previous album, in an endless exploration of new musical, innovative roads that at the same time turn out to be commercial and satisfying enough in the field of current music.
According to Cretu, these two first albums could be considered as the musical forefathers of his third success as Enigma: "The intention was to mix the elements of the first two and to give them a role". In ENIGMA 3 Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi! the author recycles the Gregorian chants and the flutes of the first album and makes them part of the band, rejecting their former soloist role. As he himself explains, "The intention was to do a very harmonic, and more middle of the road album, in that there are more songs, not only atmospheres. And also I've moved away from the familiar drum grooves because I can't stand them any more. The drum sounds are quite different on this album and quieter". By adding new ethnic traits which range from Zulu chants to Latvian folk songs, this album intends to reflect on the way things change while at the same time they remain the same: "In a naive, philosophical way, the songs on this album are a reflection on our daily lives, why we do this or that". One of the basic questions the album reflects, "Why?", is, in Cretu's opinion, one of the most fundamental questions the human being wonders about.
Although between albums there tends to be a long parenthesis, because of the conditions in which Cretu lets an idea grow, mature, and become a musical piece which he himself produces (he is his own sound engineer, producer and author of the lyrics and the music that his creative genius dictates him), this third album is not the last one the author intends to release as Enigma. The American magazine Billboard, in its edition dated October 23, 1996, claimed that Michael Cretu has signed a contract to release five additional albums after this last one, and it is expected that a new album will be released every three years, more or less. Hopefully, the good work that has been developed by ENIGMA so far, will continue to have the magnificient quality of Michael and Sandra Cretu's productions that so many of their fans and followers have come to appreciate up to now.
With respect to possible tours by Enigma, in a letter that appeared in March, 1995, Cretu said he had been considering the idea of performing a single concert in some spectacular place soon after the release of his next album, yet this was merely an idea and nothing definite has been said afterwards (as far as I know). On the other hand, Cretu's reluctance to give interviews, maybe partly due to his idea of maintaining a certain mysterious aura, and an as much of an anonymous profile as circumstances permit, so that the audience concentrates on his music rather than on his personal life as an artist, responds furthermore, according to his statements in this respect, to the fact that he has no time left for them, because of his multiple work commitments. Let's not forget that his work for Enigma is only one of his many projects, since besides this the artist usually works both in his own solo career and in different collaborations with other artists, either writing music or in his aspect as a producer. Like he himself says, "If I start to answer all of them [questions], I would never have any minute for the studio". Yet, Cretu did give an interview via Internet last December 14, 1996, about the release of the third album by Enigma, Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!, which was an exceptional event.
Cretu likes to work in the peace, solitude and quiet of his own studio, since this is the way he concentrates best on his work and can express what he wishes to say through his music in a most faithful way to his original ideas. Despite the fact that the enigma about the artist who created it in the first place has already been revealed because of circumstances beyond his control, loyal to his ideals, Cretu keeps a low profile denying any undue protagonism to his own persona, especially in the videos. "I'm important while the record is being made, but not now. What is important is the result. The music is the star, not me."
So we continue to enjoy this wonderful music and hope that more will truly be appearing in the market for us to listen to with the same quality we have come to be used to thanks to the careful work of a versatile artist whose successful career will no doubt reach new peaks in the near future.
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