On 18th May 1957, in Bucharest, the capitol of Romania , Mihai Cretu was born to a Romanian father (engineer) and Austrian mother (economist). Twenty two years later he will be recording the song titled “’57 (The Year I Was Born)” for his debut album.
His uncle, Ion Voicu, a Romanian violin-player and former director of the Bucharest Philarmonic, told Michael’s parents that he had talent in music and as such, he studied classical music at Lyceum Nr. 2 in Bucharest in 1965 and in Paris, France, in 1968. In 1975 Cretu moves to Germany, Frankfurt where he attends the Academy of Music in Frankfurt from 1975 to 1978, attaining a degree in Theory of Composition with first-class honours.
Cretu’s first solo release was the single “Wild River” in 1978. His first solo album was released in 1979, entitled “Moon, Light & Flowers”. Cretu co-wrote the album with Dylan Cross, and co-produced with Michael Th. Omilian. On Boney M’s 1979 album “Oceans of Fantasy”, Michael Cretu contributed with some arrangements and keyboard parts. A year earlier he co-arranged their „Night Flight To Venus” album. In 1979 Cretu also contributes to Peter Cornelius’ two albums “Zwei” and “Der Kaffee Ist Fertig…” (both released in 1980) by producing and arranging the tracks, occasionally providing some backing vocals and writing 3 songs: “Ich Bin Ein Wassermann”, “Es Ist Nie Zu Spat”, “Die Spatzen Pfeifen’s Vom Dach”. Michael releases another singles from his debut album: “Shadows Over My Head” and “Moonlight Flower”.
From 1980 onwards, Michael Cretu continued to work with a number of the dance and disco groups around including The Goombay Dance Band who had the hit-song “Sun of Jamaica”.Cretu co-produced Seven Tears, Ave Maria No Moro, and Reggae Nights. In 1981 Michael Cretu went on to produce Peter Kent’s “Happy Weekend” and in 1982 produced more for that artist in collaboration with Harald Steinhauer. Other songs Cretu had arranged for Kent were “Hold the Line”, “This is My Symphony”, “Mexican Moon”, and “Non-Stop Magic”. In 1982 Michael wrote the melody of the song “In The Summer Sun Of Greece” by A La Carte, which was a huge hit all over Europe.
In 1983 Michael Cretu produced the album “Ein Neuer Morgen” for Mireille Mathieu, the French diva who sang in several languages including German. Cretu wrote for her two songs: “Vai Colomba Bianca” and “Unsere Kleine Stadt”. In the same year Cretu co-operated again with Cornelius and produced the album “Fata Morgana”. It was Cornelius’s most electronic-sounding work to date. Cretu doesn’t forget about himself and releases his second solo album “Legionare” that follows strictly an 80s old-school electronic style with lots of generously layered 80s retro sounds and effects. The highlights of the album are: “Total Normal”, “Spiel Auf Zeit” and “Der Planet Der Verlorenen Zeit”.
“Japan ist Weit” was Sandra’s first solo release produced by Cretu, after her departure from the Arabesque band in 1984. The song was a German version of “Big in Japan” by Alphaville but it failed to get on charts. Michael becomes the producer and the keyboardist of the group Moti Special (with Manfred “Tissy” Thiers as main song writer & vocalist). Their first single “Stop! Girls Go Crazy” didn’t attract the floor as opposed to the second one “Cold Days, Hot Nights” that became a big hit reaching no.3 in Germany an no.4 in Switzerland. The band is just about to release their longplay while Cretu releases his first single “Schwarzer Engel” (English version of this song is titled “Silver Water”) from the forthcoming third solo album. Together with Armand Volker Cretu co-produces the album for a band named Hubert Kah “Goldene Zeiten”, including composing a song “Rhythmus A Gogo”.
This year was very successful for Cretu as his work gained the public interest and attention from the music industry. The collaboration between Michael Cretu and Hubert Kemmler yielded some of Cretu’s most memorable productions of the 1980’s. Sandra’s innocent and bright vocals, layered over Cretu’s sophisticated arrangements, brought about new joy in music of pristine and untainted grandeur. “Maria Magdalena” typified the combination of those elements. The success was instant and astounding, as the song was number one in 16 European countries. Another successes came with the release of the full Sandra’s “Long Play” followed by another hit single “In The Heat Of The Night”. Moti Special released their LP “Motivation” (produced by Cretu) followed by another successful single “Don’t Be So Shy”. In the shadow of Sandra’s success, Michael Cretu releases his third album “Die Chinesische Mauer” (and respectively its English version titled “The Invisible Man”) with the remarkable lead single promoting the album “Samurai”.
Cretu and Volker co-produced the album “Tensongs” for Hubert Kah band (Hubert Kemmler, Markus Löhr, Klaus Hirschburger) . The album was a dark, crisp, immaculately precise work of music and ambiguous lyrics. The music was equally polished with infectious melodies rendered optimally elegant by Cretu’s production. The first track, “Pogo The Clown” begins with an abrasive sweeping synthesizer that reminds of the beginning of “Gambit”, Cretu’s stand-alone single of that year. The album contains some synth-pop classic pieces such as “Drowning”. Shortly after the release of “Tensongs”, Cretu wrote a new song for Hubert Kah entitled “Military Drums” that was released as cd single and became a hit. The band soon becomes first Cretu’s overseas (U.S.) success. Sandra’s career during 1986 is growing rapidly, making her a pop star in many European countries (except UK). Her second album “Mirrors” was released on Virgin Records that year, bringing out more hit songs like “Hi Hi Hi!”, “Midnight Man” or “Loreen”– a ballad that had been written by Frank Peterson (future Cretu’s Enigma debut collaborator).
This was the year that witnessed the first attempt to break Sandra into the United Kingdom music scene. The song “Everlasting Love” was released in England and the United States as well as Japan and Germany. The European success of the song in 1987 encouraged the release a maxi single in the UK. Michael Cretu and Hubert Kemmler collaborated with the Australian group Inker and Hamilton on the album “Dancing into Danger”. The album, fully electronic in production, sustained a rock feel about it mostly due to the vocal style of Hillary Hamilton that was reminiscent to some other female singers of the period such as Par Benatar. Most of the tracks were co-written by Cretu and Kemmler. Other collaborators included Ken Taylor. The title track was covered in 1993 by Maggie Reilly with a different title and lyrics: “Every Single Heartbeat”. In the same year, Cretu co-produced a song “When The Time Has Come” for Mike Oldfield’s album “Islands”.
This was the year when Cretu and Sandra moved to Ibiza and got married on 7th February. The effect on the music was of added beauty and depth to the sound with somewhat of a loss of urgency. Sandra released the ambitious album “Into A Secret Land”. The album was written and performed with Hubert Kah, and broke through with the track “Heaven Can Wait”. A slew of successful singles followed : “Secret Land”, “Around My Heart”, and “We’ll Be Together”. The album brought first multi platinum awards for Sandra and by many is considered as her best record ever. Michael Cretu teamed once more with Manfred “Thissy” Thiers of Moti Special to produce and co-write the album “Belle Epoque”. The album contained eight tracks and yielded two single releases: “When Love is the Missing Word” and “Don’t Say You Love Me” (Let Me Feel It)”. “Mona Lisa”, the first song on the CD was a cover of Cretu’s song “Silver Water” from 1985’s “The Invisible Man”. Before the album release, the video single for a “School’s Out” (Alice Cooper’s cover) had been released, though, the song never appeared on album’s tracklist. In 1988 Inker & Hamilton released a standalone single produced and co-written by Michael Cretu “Shadow & Light”. It did pretty well on German music charts.
Hubert Kah released “Sound of My Heart”– the album produced by Cretu, that yielded a number of Billboard dance-chart hits to follow up on the success of 1986’s hit “Limousine”. The new hits were “Welcome”, “Machine Gun” , “So Many People”. A lesser-known collaboration of the same period was with the famous French diva Sylvie Vartan and resulted in the album “Confidanses” release which had been arranged and produced by Cretu (with the assistance of Frank Peterson). Cretu co-wrote together with Didier Barbelivien two songs: a hit single release “C’est Fatal” and “Ca Va De Soi”. The first song is a dramatic and powerful ballad both in tune and lyric. Cretu’s explosive drums magically blend with Sylvie Vartan’s voice at a memorable moment of touching and tragic sound. The song is a noteworthy work from Michael Cretu.
This year marked a change, not only in the career of Michael Cretu, but also in the face of popular music in general by the conception of Enigma. Since then, the story of Enigma has been the subject of countless reviews, articles and media publications. Cretu developed an idea for a New-Age music project named Enigma. “MCMXC a.D.” was recorded in eight months in 1990 at A.R.T. Studios located in Cretu’s home in Ibiza, Spain. It is one of the first albums recorded onto a hard disk drive. Cretu makes extensive use of Gregorian chants, pop/dance beats, and synthesized Shakuhachi flute sounds. “MCMXC a.D.” is considered a landmark and innovative New-Age album by which Cretu developed the idea of sampling. Though samples had been used by artists such as Jean-Michel Jarre and Klaus Schulze, Cretu built his music around whole sequences of previously recorded parts. This method was adopted by many hip-hop and electronic music artists. On 1st October, the first piece off the album was released under the title “Sadeness (part I)” and shortly after, it became an international smash hit, reaching no. one in 24 countries and the top ten in many others, including the United States. The single sold in 5 million copies at that time.
“MCMXC a.D.” received some criticism for its sexual and religious themes and connotations. Nevertheless, the album was a worldwide success, reaching the top 10 in ten countries, including the UK, and No. 6 in the U.S. It sold 7 million copies within first two years and stayed on the Billboard 200 chart for 282 weeks. Four singles from the album were released: “Sadeness (Part I)” – 5 million copies sold, “Mea Culpa (part II)”, “Principles of Lust”, and “The Rivers of Belief”. Cretu received a prestigious Echo Award (Germany) in category Most Successful German Production Abroad. A limited edition of “MCMXC a.D.” was released in November featuring “The Rivers Of Belief” in previously unreleased version titled ‘The Returning Sience’.
Year of 1992 is the year of Cretu’s collaboration with Peter Cornelius that led to the release their album “Cornelius + Cretu”. The album was distinctly dark and non-commercial. There were two singles released but both the album and singles had short lives and are now are not very easy to find. The album had a coldfeel about it, which is not typical of Michael Cretu’s music, generally bright and optimistic. Also in 1992 Michael Cretu participated in an amusing project for a talent competition sponsored by Marlboro “Marlboro Music Chartbreaker Song-Competition”. In the beginning of that year, Cretu produced a brand new Sandra album “Close To Seven”. Cretu enhances the sensuality of Sandra’s voice as well as the overall haunting yet sultry atmosphere of the album with a distinct Enigma sound attached. All songs have a mature air about them. The end of the year gives Michael another awards: Echo Award’92 for Best Marketing and Best National Artist (for Enigma).
Angel X’s “Welcome to the Soul Asylum” released in 1993 and co-produced by Cretu was a relative flop and was not seen by many. Angel Hard himself wrote most of the songs with lyrics from Hubert Kah’s Kalus Hirschburger. It would not be fair to attribute the failure of the album to the writer of the songs, however the songs were rather weak; and Cretu’s production, beautiful as ever, was not able to salvage the overall lack of content. Some songs do slightly stand out such as the title track “Soul Asylum”, a swing affair with a 1920’s gang-war atmosphere, or “Bring My Soul Back To You”. In June, the new Enigma track “Carly’s Song” appeared on the soundtrack of the Paramount motion-picture “Sliver”, together with another variation of this song: “Carly’s Loneliness”. The first one was later issued as cd single, around two months before a hit single premiere “Return To Innocence” that promoted “The Cross Of Changes” album release. “Return To Innocence” (with Andreas Harde aka Angel X on vocals) became a global Enigma hit no.1 having sold over 5 million copies of that single and reaching no.1 on charts in over 10 countries.
The second Enigma album “The Cross Of Changes” yielded a number of singles throughout the 1994 year. A more rock-infused and multi-layered sound is present in “The Cross of Changes”, and the Gregorian chants from the previous album were replaced with ethnic-style world chants that conquered not only the radio air waves but MTV channel in its prime time with the classing Enigma videos for “Return to Innocence” or “The Eyes Of truth”. Finally in November the golden limited edition of “The Cross Of Changes” was released in a rather unique and outstanding format. The album this time was packaged in a black and gold digipack format with the CD being in 24 carot gold plated. Second Enigma album was sold in almost 6 million units only within first year since its premiere attaining multiple Gold and Platinum record awards worldwide.
Sandra & Cretu returned with the new album “Nights in White Satin” with heavy involvement of Jens Gad, not only in the production but also in the song-writing. Klaus Hirschburger of Hubert Kah continued to write lyrics. In fact, the album was a flop. The album sales figures were poor and the reason could be that it simply did not sound like a Sandra album. Whether the dance-tracks were flat, or the ballads were lukewarm, or both or neither, the album failed to raise the interest typical of a Sandra release. The album featured a powerful cover version of “Nights in White Satin” by The Moody Blues (chosen as a first promoting single but it didn’t do well on the charts. The second single even failed to get onto the music charts). One of the songs that saves the album is “First Lullaby”– a beautiful ballad that had been written with Sandra’s twin babies in mind, as she had been still pregnant with Nikita and Sebastian. The twins were born on 6th July 6, at 10:03 and 10:04 respectively. 1995 was also the year in which Cretu’s mother passed away. Such extreme emotions (joy and sorrow) influenced the way Cretu approached the next Enigma’s album production (songs: “The Child in Us”, “Why”).
“Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi” was the title of the third Enigma studio album (French for “The King Is Dead, Long Live The King!”) released in November 1996. Cretu conceived that album as a child of the previous two with the new sound identity. The disappearance of Enigma and its resurfacing time after time (every third year) fresh, new and isolated from any trend or identifiable source of energy was indeed as impressive and real as an idea would self-rejuvenate through time and circumstance surviving people and other immediacies. E3 sounds slightly mellower and more melancholic than its predecessors. Cretu moved away from the familiar groove beats and make them audible in the middle distance instead. Whole production was exhaustively layered and sophisticated. By adding new ethnic traits which range from Zulu chants to Latvian folk songs, this album intends to reflect on the way things change while at the same time they remain the same. There were two singles released from this album (“Beyond The Invisible”, “TNT For The Brain”) and an aborted plan for a third one: “The Roundabout”.
It was a third consecutive Enigma album that was awarded an “Echo” (German Grammys). E3 earned an Echo Award 1997 for the most successful national production abroad (“Beyond the Invisible”), and the following year , Enigma’s “Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!” was also nominated in the Grammy Awards 1998 for ‘Best New Age Album’. Johann Zambryski’s album art design earned him a nomination for Best Recording Package at those Grammys as well.
A new musical project by Michael Cretu: “Trance Atlantic Air Waves” (TAAW) appeared for the first time in August 1997 with “Magic Fly” single release but it wasn’t until late February 1998 when the full album was released under the title “The Energy of Sound”. This work of Cretu (together with Jens Gad) had an unusual character, in spite of the fact that most tunes were written by others, the project was not a collection of re-makes in the direct sense. Had it not been for three tracks that were written by Cretu and Gad, the album would have been easier to categorize; however, as some critics wrote, the best tracks on the album were the original tracks. In 1998, the two follow-up singles were released: “Chase” (the lead single) and “The Crockett’s Theme”. In spring took place a transformation (re-building) of the A.R.T. Studios within the Cretu’s house in Ibiza. Designed by Cretu with Gunter Wagner of Supersonic Communications / Australia , this unique studio featues an amazing consol which had its own built-in keyboard. Gunter Wagner designed the studio so that there is – with the exception of the computers mouse – no visible cable’s in the studio.
Cretu decided to produce an album for Andru Donalds after he had auditioned him in Ibiza for the forthcoming E4 album. The album “Snowing Under My Skin” was released in May and contained two cover versions of previously released material. The first single to be released from the album is Air Supply’s “All Out of Love” cover. The album was written and produced in a period during which the public anticipated a new Enigma album. The work was rather intuitive and relaxed and had a fresh sound of pop music. The album explored the wide range of Andru Donald’s voice and allowed for a variety of influences to be at play with a very distinctive Cretu-like production on top of it. In November 1999, as a prelude to the new Enigma album “The Screen Behind The Mirror” Virgin Records released the first single: “Gravity of Love”. This gave fans an early indication of the style and feel for the new Enigma album. Full coverage of the single and album appear in 2000.
The long awaited, fourth Enigma album was released worldwide on 17 January. “The Screen Behind The Mirror” bore a strong and clear concept: the discrepancy between vision and perception; between what we see and what we perceive, primarily of ourselves and consequently of the universe. The album was structured around a very familiar piece: “O Fortuna” from the opera Carmina Burana by Carl Orff (1895-1982). E4 had a powerful, dark, sometimes even crude feel that set it apart from the other Enigma albums, especially from the third (toned-down) album. The beats were strong, the melodies unsettling, even threatening at times. “Push the Limits” was a unique track in being dynamic and tragic even in its rather long album version (6:27). It was released as the second single. The album brought Cretu multiplied Gold record awards and decent music charts/media appearance. A new album produced for Andru Donalds by Michael Cretu Cretu titled “Let’s Talk About It” is about to be released; and a first single has already appeared entitled “Precious Little Diamond” (in the end this track didn’t appear on the album’s final tracklist). The second single “( I’m Not Your) One Night Lover” will be released to co-incide with the new album release.
The year of 2001 marks a turning point in Enigma’s history. It’s the year when the classic Enigma chapters end in order to open the brand new ones soon. In October Enigma releases a new retrospective album “Love Sensuality Devotion” (LSD) featuring all Enigma hits and major songs. LSD splendidly documents the influential output of Michael Cretu called by some an electronic bohemian who successfully creates cinematic, otherworldly New Age-like musical suites. Now, more than a decade removed from the arrival of “Sadeness” and its eyebrow-raising mix of sacred and sensual subplots, people can debate whether Cretu’s music represents savvy commercial calculation or satisfying art. LSD suggests a split decision, though tracks with intriguing blends of atmosphere and rhythm, such as “Gravity of Love”, “T.N.T. for the Brain” and “Morphing Thru Time” reveal an inventiveness that demonstrates Cretu is capable of more than sophisticated novelty tunes. Two new tracks, a short intro “The Landing” and the single promoting the album “Turn Around” open this package. Meanwhile, remastered older tracks segue beautifully to exude a satisfying, seamless unity. In conjunction with the album release, on October, 26th 2001 at the “Planetarium Hamburg” (Hamburg, Germany) starts “Enigma – the Planetarium show”. The 50-minute programme shows an incredible visual power of Enigma music under the starry dome of the Hamburg Planetarium, it’s a multimedia journey through the audiovisual universe of Enigma offers – with stars , music video projections and laser effects. The laser effects are created by the completely new developed ZULIP (Zeiss Universal Laser Image Projector)
The highlight of the year 2003 for Michael Cretu is the release of fifth Enigma studio album titled “Voyageur”. Michael Crétu, turns out more light electronic ambience on E5, utilizing a lighter production style, his compositions benefit from the lack of themes, chants, and assorted ethereal voices that began to plague his discs while still retaining the essence of Enigma. The songs are seamlessly merged together into a flowing river of music in which there are moments of calm as well as sections that have a swift undercurrent of beats. Strangely, the critics gave this album better reviews than the previous album had gotten (E4) while claiming that overall, “Voyageur” counts as an improvement over “The Screen Behind the Mirror”, Enigma still hasn’t found a replacement for the Gregorian chants and whispery grooves that made “MDMXC a.D.” such a big sensation. A big percentage of Enigma fans didn’t give a warm welcome to the new sound of Enigma claiming that if this album had been released under any other artist name it wouldn’t have received any recognition.
On September 22nd 2006, “A Posteriori”, the sixth album of Michael Cretu’s Enigma project was released. It takes you on a voyage through a multilayered soundscape, to the limits of your sonic experience, but always stays true to the essence of Enigma. The album will carry any hitch-hiker along to explore extraordinary new galaxies aboard the sound-ship Enigma. Less overtly sensual than earlier recordings and devoid of female singers in lead-vocalist roles (no Ruth-Ann, no Sandra), “A Posteriori” nevertheless stands as a worthwhile recording that at its best moments handsomely displays Cretu’s talents for effective songcraft and imaginative sound design. The 54-minute disc is more an ode to science and discovery rather than brainy erotica. It plays out more like a soundtrack for the mind and soul – more similar to earlier albums. You won’t find many standout sing-along songs, but if you love that mysterious Enigma atmosphere, you should let it grow on you more and more with every single listen. The album was announced as nominee on 49th Annual Grammy Awards on the category ‘’Best New Age Album’’ .
Before the eight Enigma chapter arrived in 2008, a year earlier Ruth-Ann Boyle had released her first solo album “What About Us” produced by Cretu (recorded between 2004-2005). This album can be seen as an evolution from Olive & Enigma. The album was only released as a digital download via iTunes in 2007, quoting a lack of necessary project support and co-ordination to produce physical copies of the album. On 19th September 2008 Enigma’s seventh album “Seven Lives Many Faces” arrives. This album expands the sound catalogue of previous releases and it is expected to lead to a new Omni-Cultural wave. The lead single “Seven Lives” is a powerful fusion of modern and classical elements – this is what official press release say about the album. The reality is though more disappointing. A vast majority of lifelong Enigma fans think the production of the album is not great, the songs are very simple, sound flat and often contain pathetic lyrics. Naturally, there are some interesting and useful new elements but overall there’s lack of substance and meaningful themes. The album seems more of a musical experiment than a moving work of art. The next year brings another bad news to Cretu and his fans – his house in Ibiza must be demolished due to legal regulations, and Enigma project will go into the shadow for the next 8 years …