Overview: Over the past 16 years, an extraordinary group of musicians has come together to celebrate the universal power of music. Named for the ancient trade route linking Asia, Africa and Europe, the Silk Road Ensemble was conceived by renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 2000 and consists of a diverse and rotating lineup of instrumentalists, vocalists, composers and storytellers from around the world. The collective exemplifies music’s ability to blur geographical boundaries, blend disparate cultures, and inspire hope for both artists and audiences.
Expectations: This seems to be a documentary that is straight forward and simple and yet holds a strong message. I am of the understanding that we meet those musicians who make up the ensemble and get to hear their sound. That sounds nice enough, but it is the last portion of the paragraph above, I suspect, that holds the key to it all. It says “The collective exemplifies music’s ability to blur geographical boundaries, blend disparate cultures, and inspire hope for both artists and audiences.” We are about to get a lesson on the universal power of music and that is a refreshing spin from the normal documentary we see around here. I’m in.
Gut Reaction: What a nice concept, nice sound and a nice story to tell. The film quickly sets up the premise of Yo-Yo Ma’s creation of the troupe before we get into particulars. What does a musician who has started playing cello at 7 for Presidents do now? He has played every venue and cello part out there by no. What’s next? Well, he starts a musical troupe, but it is just not any group it is one formed of international artists. He stated something to the effect that he is on a continual search for new ways to communicate with audiences, nd to sate his personal desire for artistic growth and renewal.
Others in the film also highlighted their need for music in their lives and which ends up giving a great testimony to the power of music. Wu Ma, who plays the lute-like pipa, grow up in isolationist China and starved for cultural enrichment. She found it in music. Kinan Azmeh hails from Syria. The war-torn country through the decades as caused great sadness for Azmeh, but he is able to shut it all out when he performs his music. Kayhan Kalhor plays the unique kamancheh from his native Iran. He offers a Persian sound from the ages with it. Also profiled is Christino Pato from Spain and plays the Galician bagpipes. She is the first woman from her country to release an album featuring the instrument. Together she and the others listed here are won awards and acclaim across the globe and share their love of music and how it has changed their lives. Viewers of the documentary hear their story and their sounds throughout the film, but the best musical moment is the opening concert piece out in the middle of a town square. It was a great piece of music.
The Silk Road Ensemble is a dynamic group and their music is thrilling but it is their message that speaks louder. The cultural and artistic thread that binds us is strong and if you flex it enough it becomes stronger still and that can only help our global village.
Bonus: If you like this documentary and want to dig deeper than hit this website (themusicofstrangers.film) to learn more and purchase music.
In Conclusion: I’ll admit it might take the right kind of person to appreciate this documentary. It would help if you had a strong appreciation for music in all of its forms and considered yourself a global citizen in order to embrace the message this film could bring you. It is not just there to give meaning to the artists but to try, in a simple way, to bind the world together. Whether you are of the right mind to believe it can is up to you, but it can’t hurt to try. Take in THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS: YO-YO MA AND THE SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE and see if it moves you.
Next: CRIES FROM SYRIA. Helen Mirren narrates this harrowing exploration of the devastating civil war that has defined the Syria over the last five years, as told through the eyes of activists, civilians and children. It debuts 03.13 at 10:00pm.