By Lily O’Brien
“Music is such a fascinating medium to be conversant in,” muses Canadian singer Loreena McKennitt by telephone. And her devoted fans would probably express gratitude over the fact that she chose music over her original career choice—which was to be a veterinarian.
A two-time Grammy nominee, with 14 million albums sold worldwide, McKennitt has amassed a large international following with her rare style of eclectic Celtic world fusion music. She returns to the U.S. this month for her first tour here since 2007, and brings two of her longtime musical collaborators, Brian Hughes (on guitar, bouzouki and oud) and Caroline Lavelle (on cello, recorder and concertina).
McKennitt studied classical voice for five years and classical piano for eight, and taught herself to play several instruments, including the harp. She is known for the pure, sweet tone of her multi-range soprano singing voice and for her expressive interpretation and richly unusual arrangements of traditional Celtic tales.
McKennitt’s arrangements are often combined with complex percussive Middle Eastern rhythms—derived from music that she’s heard during her travels all over the world, from Ireland to Morocco. The result is a somewhat mysterious and mesmerizing soundscape that feels like it came from another century.
McKennitt, with the exception of a licensing agreement deal with the Warner Music Group in 1991, has managed her own business since she began performing in the early ’80s. “I’d like to say I knew what I was doing—but I didn’t,” she says. “But what I did know, is whatever success I achieved, I wanted to achieve it on the back of my own merit and understanding … I wanted to learn this business and understand all the things that impacted my creativity.”
When asked if she has plans to record a new album, McKennitt says that she traveled to Rajasthan, India a few years ago to research material, but that due to touring and the demands of her business, it may have to wait.
For now, McKennitt is enjoying touring the U.S. again. “It’s great to be out on the road and meeting people, seeing the countryside, and re-establishing a connection,” she says.
Loreena McKennitt performs on Friday, March 18, at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa; 8pm; $45-$55, and on Saturday, March 19 at the Masonic, 1111 California St., San Francisco, 8pm; $49-$85.