The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble (2016)

Promotional shot for The Music of Strangers

Music, the old saying goes, hath charms that sooth the savage breast. It is also, according to Morgan Neville and Caitrin Rogers’ documentary, an international language that knows few limits. Their documentary “The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble” follows the start of the ensemble and its continuing life.

We are allowed to see the thought process of Ma during the gestation period. The world famous cellist had a type of epiphany that culminated in the year 2000 with the first ever get together of these international stars. The music created came from worldwide composers, lyricists, musicians and storytellers.

At the end of this initial musical collaboration, Yo-Yo was not sure whether or not the experience could be replicated or if they should even attempt it. Ma’s act of letting this musical genii out of the bottle, however, meant that The Silk Road Ensemble would meet again and again.

This brilliant blending of instruments, cultures and styles have come together in what has been described as a fusion, not too dissimilar to what happens when disparate jazz musicians get together and jam.

The result is exciting, moving and life changing. Not necessarily for an audience privileged to hear this incredibly beautiful music, but for the participants. Neville and Rogers take us through the birth process of this magical group and show us some of the stories behind the players who contribute to the ensemble.

Artists from Spain, Tehran, Syria, China, America, Japan and India all comprise this unique group and blend their musical cultures to produce music that is exciting and addictive.

The Music of Strangers takes a closer look at Man Wu, Cristina Pato, Kayhan Kalhor, Kinan Azmeh and Yo-yo Ma. We get backstories for these fascinating and talented individuals.

The documentary attempts to explain just how the group works so well together by speaking with some of the participants who have been playing since the ensemble’s conception. It also shows what the various members have taken away from their long running experience with Yo-Yo Ma and the group.

Most of all, however, The Music of Strangers is about music. The universality of it, the blending of a variety of cultural influences to create a sound that is different and appeals to all who hear it.

Ma’s son Nicholas Ma provides a little background on his father and what he believes that Yo-Yo has taken away from his experiences. Not just a redefinition of himself but an experience of coming home to his beginnings.

The stories of the players focused upon make up a varied and colorful tapestry of global landscapes, hometowns and experiences by country. Each musician has taken something away from his or her experiences with the ensemble as well as having brought so much to Ma’s concept.

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble is a celebration of music, its universal appeal and its language. This blending has resulted in a truly breathtaking exhibit of just how interchangeable and incredibly flexible music can be.

This documentary is well worth the time spent watching it. Just the music alone makes this a brilliant and moving experience for the viewer.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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