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Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” Song Analysis

Enya is the anglicized version of the name Eithne N Bhraonin, the artist who recorded Orinoco Flow. Technically the song is considered to be “New Age”, which is often thought of as a new type of “elevator music”. However, the construction of the melody and the combination of interesting, though quite simple, lyrics, this recording made it to the top of the charts around the world. It was originally part of the album, “Watermark”. Enya started out working with a Celtic band with her siblings, Clannad, and then branched into writing, creating two songs for “Lord of the Rings”, and the soundtrack for “The Celts” documentary. Her music is considered New Age, a type of post-modernist music, but is also firmly planted in both traditional folk and techno, due to elements of content and production.

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The new-age theme is very apparent in the lyrics, which serve a dual purpose. Many people believe she is talking about the Orinoco River. She is talking about the recording studio also, Orinoco, establishing a double meaning for the song. (Enya online 2008) She is talking about the flow of music and creative people through the studio and even mentions the name of one of the execs there in Orinoco Flow, Rob Dickins. So, decidedly, Enya is making a statement about art.

However, one cannot help but think about the Orinoco River and Delta and the echoes of currents in the oceans and global weather patterns which are intimately connected to the Orinoco when examining her lyrics. (Basic Delta Geomorphology, 2008) If we consider the huge contribution Orinoco makes to the rest of the world and the fragility of this environment, the song seems very powerful.

The lyrics speak of the connectedness of all points on the earth:

  • “Let me sail, let me sail, let the Orinoco flow, (South America)
  • Let me reach, let me beach on the shores of Tripoli. (Africa)
  • Let me sail, let me sail, let me crash upon your shore,
  • Let me reach, let me beach far beyond the Yellow Sea. (Asia)” (Enya 1988)

She then moves to mentioning places by name, some of which no longer exist, allowing these lyrics to transcend time and place. This idea even fits well with the music, which has a catchy rhythm from the beginning and harmonies which enchant. If thinking of this when listening to the lyrics, we get the distinct feeling that the “me” of the song is nature or maybe the waterways of the world, or even the whole connected tapestry of life.

Enya writes her music and plays multiple instruments plus a keyboard, recording all the parts herself, with some help in production and lyrics from Nicky and Roma Ryan. The music is reminiscent of Celtic folk crossed with religious chorale. However, the lyrical rhythm and the interesting melody remind one of the actual ways in which water flows, and some of the instrumentation even sounds like cascading water, especially the harp and keyboard. The voices, all of which are Enya, sound like a rich choir, but the volume ebbs and flows like organ music as the performer increases and decreases pressure on the keys. Her vocals are clear and almost haunting, a frequent characteristic of Celtic music.

Enya performs all percussion, instruments, and vocals in her pieces unless specified….. almost all sounds of her pieces are created by a synthesizer, specifically the Roland D-50. (See her website where her studio is described.) (Enya 2008) Her trademark sound is achieved by layering her voice as much as eighty times.,” ( Wikipedia 2008)

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With the combination of multiple layers of voices in harmony, expert sound management, and extremely original music which employs many facets of both classical and Celtic folk music, an exciting sound is achieved. The song has one basic melody for the verses sung by the voices, while the instrumentation creates a tapestry of finely woven accent arpeggios, a complementary melody played as in a canon and counterpoint to support it and keep it moving.

By the chorus, the percussion has created rising excitement as the voices sing the almost dancing refrain, “Sail away”. This is climaxed with the gliding wordless harmony of voices punctuated by percussion and percussive strokes on strings or simulations of these on the keyboard.

The whole effect of this combination of multiple harmonized voices, percussion, tightly woven melodies, and wonderfully lyrical rhythm is to make the audience feel the flow which the title describes, almost flowing with it with body movement and to be energized as the music fades. The synthesis of a fusion of classical and Celtic styles, blended with an amazing range of sound using the synthesizer with percussion and some acoustic instrumentation and layer upon layer of harmonized voices pushes “New Age” to a truly new place.

The technical aspects are a creative use of today’s sound technology to express the artistry of the composer/performer. Because of the technology used, one could label this as techno, but the resemblance stops there. This fusion is not about making odd sounds, but about expressing the feelings of a truly poetic soul. Most people label this music “Enya”, since it really does not classify well.


Basic Delta Geomorphology, 2008, Geo-environmental Characterization of the Delta del Orinoco. Web.

Enya on line, 2008. Web.

Enya, 1988, Orinoco Flow, Watermark , Warner Music

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Wikipedia, 2008, Enya. Web.

Lyrics on line, 2008, Watermark (1988), Orinoco Flow. Web.

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