“Cultures must continue to evolve, or they naturally become smaller…” or words to that effect.
And not my words Lynn, the words of legendary Chinese cellist, Yo-Yo Ma.
It’s hard to think of anything that this once child prodigy hasn’t accomplished in his extraordinairy musical career.
The Music of Strangers offers a whistle-stop recap of much of his career, but focuses mainly on the interesting project that he embarked upon come the turn of the century.
Having spent so many years honing his classical cello technique to an enviable standard, Yo-Yo Ma felt compelled to discover more about music from far flung lands, initially spending some time in the company of the bushmen of the Kalihari desert: “getting some dirt in his bones” – as the wonderful Bobby McFerrin so concisely puts it.
There then followed an attempt to assemble a collective of top musicians within their fields, from all over the globe. Their aim? To create some kind of fusion of world musical styles.
The results of what would become The Silk Road Project, were, and indeed still are, startling.
Although this essentially ‘fusion’ project has come under some scrutiny from music purists ever since, far from diluting each culture, Yo-Yo Ma’s collective succeeds in drawing attention to them, and introduces the as yet uninitiated to the vibrancy and inspirational wonder of ‘world music’ – for want of a better term.
Morgan Neville’s film explores each member of the collective’s own style and story, some of which have been heavily touched by personal tragedy, and the xenophobic attitudes that so nearly de-railed their project in the aftermath of the events of 9/11.
Musicians from as far afield as Iran, China and Syria form the constituent parts of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. It’s a remarkable array of cultures that have bonded through their shared knowledge of the language of music. New found brothers and sisters. A genuine musical ‘family’ if ever there was one, equally at home busking on city streets as they are performing in packed concert halls.
As suggested at the film’s end, Yo-Yo Ma knew he had to get away from his home and his roots in order to explore and find his place in this world, and it’s been a journey that ironically has brought him home again.
The Music of Strangers is as heart warming and inspirational a documentary as you’ll see this year. Genuine bonds of togetherness of musicians from such apparently disparate cultures demonstrates perfectly the oneness and genuine warmth of the human spirit.
Yo-Yo Ma has reached many milestones in a remarkable career, but in creating a work of such goodwill and togetherness, it’s probably fair to say that his Silk Road Project will be, many years from now, his enduring epitaph. And rightly so.
Inspirational and uplifting.