'Secrets' Agent McKennitt

The Mummer's Dance

Alot of pop musicians claim they came up from the streets, but seldom as literally as Loreena McKennitt. After borrowing $10,000 from her parents to cut an album, the Canadian-born Celtic musician would take her harp and a box of cassettes from her Stratford, Ontario, home into Toronto and play on the streets. Her album caught the ear of programmers at the Canadian Broadcasting Co., and before long McKennitt’s homegrown label was a thriving business.

Since signing a licensing deal with Warner Bros. in 1991, McKennitt has become a global force in world music. Her two previous albums went gold in Italy, Spain, Greece, Australia, and the U.S.; her latest, The Book of Secrets, is at half a million here and may do even better, thanks to a techno-tinged remix of “The Mummers’ Dance” that makes the tune’s medieval melody seem strangely at home on pop radio. It’s an unlikely mix, but then, so is the 40-year-old McKennitt, a self-taught musician, songwriter, and businesswoman who spends her spare time reading history and traveling the world.

As a musician, McKennitt is pleased by the way DNA’s Nick Batt (who also helped funk up “Tom’s Diner” for Suzanne Vega) boosted the beat. “The way he’s adjusted the rhythm is a direction I would have gone in,” she says. But as a label chief, McKennitt worried that listeners would be confused by a radio-only remix and the more ethnic-flavored album version. “People who are hearing this on radio for the first time were, because of the absence of a single, almost goaded into buying the album — and not getting what they want,” she says.

Although the marketing brass at Warner Bros. carped that a single might cannibalize album sales, McKennitt was more concerned about alienating fans. So a commercial edition of the remix was released this week.

“I feel that this business is about relationships,” she says. “Probably the most important relationship for me is between myself and the fans. It’s long-term good business judgment — which I see painfully little of in this business.”

The Mummer's Dance
  • Music