The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble
Follow several talented members of the ensemble as they gather in locations across the world, exploring the ways art can both preserve traditions and shape cultural evolution.
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★★★★ review by Joel Lake on Letterboxd
A documentary that follows cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the building of and touring of the Silk Road Ensemble, a group of musicians gathered together to make music, influence culture and better the world. Director Morgan Neville has a great cinematic eye and the way the film breaks away to highlight key members of the ensemble makes the film feel truly unique. The narrative mainly follows Yo-Yo Ma,Cristina Pato(pianist)and Kayhan Kalhor( Iranian Kamancheh player) with the rest of the ensemble acting as background characters, but the film never bores as each story feels unique and personal while also intertwining with the overall narrative and feeling like a piece of the puzzle rather than another film in the main doc.
The music is so great in here with many of the full songs being heard throughout the film. The artistry on display is so great that the music becomes a character to itself. Yo-Yo Ma has such a great voice and way of making his message know without being too preachy that it was truly a delight to have seen this film in theaters.
A documentary that while inspire anyone, but especially those who desire to be more creative.
★★★★ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd
Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble have built a healthy reputation across the past decade and a half and this film offers him the chance to reflect back on whether the musicians involved have achieved the artistic goals that initially drove them together. As Yo Yo's son states early on "When you are great at doing something and everyone around you reenforces that, you don't really take the time to stop to think why you are great at what you do". Meaning this is also a search for self validation for Yo Yo, and all of the artists involved, outside of merely writing and performing. What they are hoping to discover is a larger reason behind what their musicianship can inspire and affect outside of the notes they play.
The ensemble encompasses musicians from China, Iran, Russia, Spain (who knew about bagpipes outside of Scotland??) India, Armenia - the list goes on. There is no fixed roster but around 60 musicians have been involved up until now. What started out as an experiment has now proven to be extremely successful and not purely in commercial terms. The universal language of music proves its ability to transcend across personal, cultural and political barriers. All of those involved are specialists of instruments heavily associated with more localised and traditional forms, which created quite a bit of descent from critics scared of change.
Morgan Neville's last film 20 Feet From Stardom won plenty of plaudits (and an Oscar I believe) but at times felt a little too slick and self-congratulatory. There is an element to that here too as the musicians discuss their own personal upheavals from troubled parts of the world and their own idealistic artist pursuits. Except that is grounded in the reality of the restrictive regimes or cultures they have left behind and the earnestness in which they speak of their own musical and personal paths. As you would expect there is some wonderful music to be heard and Neville compliments this with a broad cinematic eye to suit the global stage these artists perform on.
★★★★½ review by janetvonrandow on Letterboxd
A great documentary sparkling with humanity and the joy and healing power of music. A friend saw it twice and insisted I go - I tracked it down and could not have been more delighted.
★★★★ review by MaryAnn Johanson on Letterboxd
This soul-refreshing documentary celebrates difference as a beautiful thing vital to making great art, and for making a better world for everyone.
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★★★½ review by EmpStrikesSnack on Letterboxd
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