Enigma: The Man Behind The Mystery

by David Knight
dotmusic October 21, 1996

Wherever you are in the world, you are likely to hear it: the chant of a Native American, a remote African tribe or an austere religious order backed by the rhythms of Western pop music.

The music of Enigma, and the whole genre it has inspired, has become so widespread it is hard to believe it did not exist before one man conceived it. That man, Michael Cretu, remains largely unheralded but, as he refuses to be photographed and styles himself as an enigma, he has little cause for complaint.

Cretu was born in Romania and, after classical training, became a studio musician in the Seventies. His first significant success came in the Eighties with Europe-wide hits for the German pop star Sandra, who later became his wife.

For the past eight years, Cretu has lived in Ibiza, creating the music of Enigma in almost complete seclusion.

However, Cretu has recently opened his doors and permitted a brief glimpse into his private world by giving the first public airing of the third Enigma album, Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!, at the place it was recorded, the studio that adjoins his home.

Cretu, 39, is genial and hospitable and certainly no recluse, but he's most comfortable within the confines of the studio he created in 1989, which he describes as his "living room".

He says, "After a big Sandra album, I had some free time for the first time in years and I started to make music for myself."

Coming out of Europop, Cretu began working on something closer to his own favourite music: the conceptual, album-orientated work of bands like Pink Floyd and Yes. "I always liked music like this, but I could no longer buy it, so I did it myself," he says.

Cretu's use of two very different and highly unfashionable sampled sounds - the Peruvian-styled panpipes and monks singing the Gregorian Cantus - over laid-back disco beats was his masterstroke. "The panpipe was one of the basic samples on the old Fairlight and I'd been trying to find a reason to use it for years," he explains.

Cretu took the Enigma project to Virgin Records Germany, where he had already been for several years as an artist/producer, signed by the now managing director Udo Lange. In October 1990, the first Enigma single, Sadeness Part One was released, followed by the album MCMXC A.D.

Sadeness topped the charts in 23 countries and the album has become the most successful German production internationally of all time: it has sold 12m units, reached number one in 41 countries and was in the US album charts for five years.

Enigma 2, The Cross of Changes, was released in 1993, sold 5m units, with the single Return to Innocence becoming a worldwide number one hit.

Now Virgin is preparing for the first globally simultaneous Enigma album release, on November 25, preceded by the single Beyond the Invisible.

Cretu describes the first tweo albums as the musical parents of his latest work. "The intention was to mix the elements of the first two and to give them a role," he says. The Gregorian chants and panpies are back, acting as signatures before Cretu moves into new ground.

"They are no longer soloists and more part of the band," he 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."

New ethnic voices are heard, from Zulus to Latvians with Lange describing the album as, "definitely the most unified Enigma record so far".

Cretu has certainly showed there is still a place for the concept album and each Enigma record carries an amount of philiosophical baggage. Cretu says there is a simple message behind the Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!. "It is about how things change and how they stay the same," he says. "In a naive, philosophical way, the songs on this album are a reflection on our daily lives, why we do this or that."

The question 'Why?' is the subject of one of the album's strongest songs and is centrally important in the album. "'Why?' is the most basic questions there is," he says. "It follows us through life from when we are kids asking 'why is the sky blue?' to when we are old and asking 'why must we die?'"

Cretu spent nearly a year making the record in almost complete solitude - he engineers as well as produces. "To be separated from the world is very important," he says. "I have to spend months in one atmosphere in order to dive into the back of my mind."

Building the album as one unified whole, Cretu tinkers with all parts of the work until completion and he emphasises how important it is to work out the running order and crossfading the tracks. "I'm obsessed with crossfades, it is my personal madness," he admits "But these are the best I've done."

He says potential hit singles were omitted in order to preserve the integrity of the entire project. "The album is the master and the single is the slave," says Cretu. But Beyond the Invisible, released worldwide today (October 21) is a classic Enigma single; an irresistable chanted refrain overlaid with a powerful melody supplied by Cretu's own vocals.

The video is directed by Julien Temple, his third for Enigma. In supplying a public image while Cretu remains hidden, Temple is very important to the whole Enigma concept. He says, "Working with Michael is unique. He doesn't appear in the videos, but he has a very clear idea about what his music can achieve visually. It's an interesting combination and you have the sense you can try anything."

Cretu has nothing but praise for Temple's approach. "It's amazing how he interprets my thoughts. He reads between the lines of my music."

Virgin UK deputy managing director Ray Cooper is excited about the project. "Michael has a strong understanding of what radio needs on a worldwide basis," he says. "And retail reaction is really good already."

The company is mounting a massive campaign around the album, which includes radio and TV advertisinbg, an ILR completition based on the theme of the video and, according to Cooper "a special event".

Meanwhile, Cretu can sit back in Ibiza, stay out of the public eye and look forward to more success. "I'm important while the record is being made, but not now," he says. "What is important is the result. The music is the star, not me."

Reproduced without permission from dotmusic for private and research purposes only.