Brightman is a worldwide phenomenon. Her blockbuster albums - Dive, Time to Say Goodbye, Eden, La Luna and Classics - have sold more than 15 million copies worldwide, and her dramatic and alluring concert performances have thrilled live audiences and hundreds of millions of TV viewers worldwide. Canada is Sarah's #1 territory in the world per capita.
Harem might be Brightman's most unique and personally creative album yet, a potent blend of the musical textures of a timeless world and the dance rhythms of the new millennium. It began as a feeling for Sarah Brightman. "I wanted to record an album with a Middle Eastern feel. It just felt like the right way to go, just a feeling at first, which is how I begin all my albums."
"Harem means 'forbidden place' in Arabic," she adds, "I have always loved that whole Arabian Nights feeling. Much of what we have created derives from my childhood reading. I was a C.S. Lewis fan. I like the idea of parallel worlds, faraway lands, mystery - I've traveled a huge amount over the years, which has influenced me immensely."
Along with the influence of legend and myth, Brightman was just as excited by the here-and-now reality of the vibrant music that pours out of the Middle East - the sensuous dance rhythms, the incomparable range of instrumental sounds and the bold, soaring melodies.
Harem continues an important creative collaboration that has shaped Brightman's previous albums, all produced by Frank Peterson, who co-produced Enigma's first multi-platinum hit. Her solo recordings are a testament to the new worlds Brightman wanted to explore when she left her successful career in musical theater, where she starred in Cats and became virtually synonymous with the role of Christine in Andrew Lloyd Webber's phenomenon, The Phantom of the Opera.
With producer Peterson, Brightman has crafted for Harem a mesmerizing new repertoire of music familiar and unusual, new and old, that showcases her own songwriting talents. Jaz Coleman (ex-Killing Joke) created the orchestrations in sumptuous layers of instrumental sound both Eastern and Western. The album features orchestral musicians from as far apart as Prague and Cairo, as well as virtuoso instrumentalists from all over the world. Also joining Brightman are classical violin superstar Nigel Kennedy and singer Kadim Al Sahir, one of the Middle East's most important and innovative new stars, as well as Natachha Atlas, Ofra Haza and Shweta Shetty.
The title track of Harem dramatizes the scope and imagination of the album. It is an adaptation of "Cancao do Mar," a classic from Portugal's fado tradition. Brightman and producer Frank Peterson have written new lyrics for the melody, in which the singer hears a connection between Middle Eastern sounds and the ancient inspirations of fado. Brightman says, "I've loved this song for ages. In our version, I wanted it to have a contemporary, Arabian Nights feel - love, the desert, passion and fire but also with a dance feeling."
The luminous "The War Is Over" - a song that embraces an end to the conflicts in love - eloquently brings Sarah Brightman together with the Iraqi singer Kadim Al Sahir, as well as the classical violin virtuoso Kennedy. "We asked Kadim to do this song with me because we knew of his voice," Brightman says. "When he came into the studio, we didn't know what he would do. I told him, 'Just do anything, feel like you're flying over the melody.' So he just started, and it was beautiful. That was the take we used."
The touching "What You Never Know" is the album's first Canadian single and the work of songwriter Stephan Moccio who wrote "A New Day Has Come," the title song for Celine Dion's most recent album. Brightman says that her first meeting with him sparked the collaboration." It was wonderful," she says. "He even knew the key I sound best in. He understood about simplicity, and I told him, 'I don't want you to have barriers - write something for me that you really feel.' This song has that 'inside' feeling. I heard it immediately." A french version of the track entitled, "Tout Ce Que Je Sais" is also included on the Canadian version of the album.
"When I wrote 'Until the End of Time'," Brightman says, "I wanted the feeling of soaring strings and fantasy lyrics, I wanted to create that sense of space, the freedom of journeying. I like that big cinematic feel in this context."
"Guéri de Toi/Free" lends Harem the French connection Brightman wanted it to have. The song was actually written in German, about the cathartic end of a love affair. The lyrics were, to Brightman "amazing, but it was very difficult to make them fit in English." A French translation of the English version helped solve the problem, and the gentle commentary of Kennedy's violin gives the track an even greater intensity.
Sarah Brightman's imagination drives a new sound for some classic hits - ranging from "What a Wonderful World" and "Stranger in Paradise" - all bathed in the Eastern atmosphere that has inspired her.
"I've always been known for interpreting music, beautiful music that I really like," she says. "As I go along, I realize that certain pieces fit into different areas at certain times. I listened to many classical pieces by Russian composers that have the feel of the East in them. 'Stranger in Paradise' speaks for itself. Not only does it have a beautiful melody by Borodin, but the song was also created for the musical Kismet, which evokes the kind of fantasy that we wanted to create. The words of 'What a Wonderful World' were so colorful, and I loved the way the chords moved - I just had to do it."
On Harem, "Stranger in Paradise" circles back to Borodin's voluptuous Polovetsian Dances for its rich orchestral textures, cradling Brightman's crystalline singing. "What a Wonderful World" is an audacious reinvention of a well-traveled pop feel-good anthem - edgier this time, tinged with melancholy. Brightman even reaches into the world of grand opera, spiriting away the melody of Puccini's "Un bel di" from Madama Butterfly to spark "It's a Beautiful Day." "The melody has this feeling of space, of mystery, of times gone by," Brightman says, "and I felt that the Asian quality Puccini created works in this new sound."
"The Journey Home" comes from Indian film composer A.R. Rahman's hit West End Bollywood musical Bombay Dreams, produced in London by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It was Lloyd Webber who brought the song to Brightman's attention. "I've been in love with Indian films, and I've known Rahman's music for a long time. When I heard the song I really, really liked it. It has a different interpretation here than in the musical, but it has the right feel."
The right feel - one of space and wonderment and great calm - inspires the shimmering "Beautiful," Brightman says. "When you can sit in open spaces and have 'inside' thoughts...that's what this song reminded me of. It has space in it."
The lyrics of "Mysterious Days" lend Harem a hipper, more modern sensibility in its evocation of American expatriates in Marrakech - Paul Bowles, in particular, and The Sheltering Sky. "It talks about the Casbah, working in the attic, the mix of the city and the Americans working there, and it has a dance aspect to it as well," Brightman says.
Sarah Brightman's worldwide success has been unique. Her breakthrough - 1997's Time To Say Goodbye - went double platinum in Canada, topped the Billboard Classical Crossover chart in the U.S. for a staggering 35 weeks, sold three million copies worldwide and went gold or platinum in 20 other countries. The title track, a duet with Andrea Bocelli, sold five million copies worldwide and stands as the biggest selling single in German history. She followed that up with her 1999 release Eden, which quickly went platinum in Canada and gold in the U.S., selling two million copies worldwide. Over 250,000 people ultimately saw Sarah Brightman's successful 60-city Eden worldwide tour. Her next two releases La Luna and Classics both went platinum in Canada.
Brightman's La Luna concert tour topped anything she had previously done, with more than 80 shows playing to live audiences totaling audiences of over 500,000 and garnering rave reviews:
With thanks to Christian Colding, who has meanwhile closed his website.
<=== Harem (2003).
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