Directed by Morgan Neville
Starring Yo-Yo Ma, Wu Man, Kayhan Kalhor
The Music Of Strangers; Yo-Yo Ma And The Silk Road Ensemble follows the life of renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and his collaboration with a number of musicians from various parts of the globe. For the last 15 years this collection of maestros has produced music based on, but melding, the various different traditions that the grew up with. Named after the famous trade route connecting East and West in medieval times, the participants of this collaboration hope to shape cultural evolution through music.
At times this can be a rather nebulous concept to hang a documentary off. The universality of music, that shared human experience to garner meaning and emotional connection from music, even if the cultural tradition it arises from is a world apart – is a little esoteric. At times the documentary does lose focus because of this, wandering into pictorial and musical interludes meant to demonstrate some aspect of the human condition. One minute exploring the impact of war in Syria and how music can bring relief to children in a UN refugee camp, the next talking about a centuries old tradition of Chinese street music and puppetry that is withering.
It is easier to understand when it concentrating on the demonstrable bond of the Silk Road Ensemble, this disparate collection of artists from various parts of the world and differing cultural and political backgrounds, brought together by a common love of music and a wish to explore it. Individually they are fascinating, talented individuals with interesting backgrounds that are indicative of the cultural melting pot that is the US. Together they are musical magic, a rich ensemble capable of dominating the screen and sweeping audiences up in there music. Although you may not recognise the name, chances are very good that you’ve heard a number of them play at some point in your life without even realising it (especially if you are a music or movie aficionado).
It’s these personalities and the resulting music that make this film stronger than its occasionally wandering message (as important as that message is). From the taciturn yet honest account of an Iranian kamencheh (a string instrument similar to the violin) master, to the humorous yet self critical analysis of Yo-Yo Ma – there is a wealth of personality on display here, and the stories they tell are rich and illuminating. Paired with exotic locations, visuals composed with a lyrical quality to match the music, and of course that wonderful sweeping soundtrack, and you have a film that will certainly entertain and captivate.
Director Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom) certainly has a gift for finding the story in the world of music, and bringing it to the screen in such a way as to be understandable and entertaining for all. Here he does it again, producing something that is thought provoking and beautiful in its own right.