THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS: YO-YO MA AND THE SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE: 4 STARS.
“The Music Of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma And The Silk Road Ensemble” is a journey through music and culture. The documentary, directed by Morgan Neville, who won an Oscar and a Grammy for his 2013 documentary “20 Feet from Stardom,” is based on the cellist’s twenty-year journey to form The Silk Road Ensemble, a loose collective of international master musicians named after the ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean.
Featuring instruments from the Silk Road region, Ma mixes-and-matches his cello with the exotic sounds of the pipa, a Chinese short-necked plucked lute, a Mongolian horse head fiddle called a morin khuur, the gaita bagpipes, played by a woman known as the Jimi Hendrix of Galicia and a Shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute among others to produce an otherworldly sound that blends different cultures and styles.
Wrapped around the individual journeys of the players is the story of the group’s most famous member. Ma is revealed to be a thoughtful man with a wandering, restless creative spirit. A child prodigy, it’s interesting to hear him sum up his career with the words, “I never committed to being a musician,” says Ma, “I just fell into it.”
Most interesting, however, is the otherworldly music. It’s a cultural democracy of sounds that shouldn’t mix and yet blend together beautifully to create music that sounds simultaneously alien and familiar. The filmmaking is basic, staying out of the way of the music, but the message of harmony in diversity is clear and anything but mundane.