"Blending performance footage, personal interviews and archival film, director Morgan Neville and producer Caitrin Rogers focus on the journeys of a small group of Silk Road Ensemble mainstays from across the globe to create an intensely personal chronicle of passion, talent and sacrifice."  From The Music of Strangers: Yo Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble website.

Click through for the full review of the documentary.

Academy Award and Grammy Award winning filmmaker Morgan Neville has brought the storytelling of Silk Road to the film world.  The movie is both a musical journey and the moving tales of the people who make up the Silk Road Ensemble.  This is not a documentary on Yo Yo Ma and his band of worldly players, but rather an introspective look at the impact of music on humanity.  The film is a real subtle masterwork.  The three elements I'd like to showcase from watching the documentary all revolve around the way music impacts people.


The film surprises with it's ability to tap into the changing time frames of the Silk Road Ensemble and the world they live in.  We get glimpses into the prodigy history many of the talented musicians share.  Yo Yo Ma, Wu Man, Kayhan Kalhor, and even the younger members like Cristina Pato all have reached incredible fame through their unique instruments.  Cello, bagpipe, kamancheh, and the musical writing skills of these superstar musicians are fully showcased by the film's wonderful editing pace.  The film jumps back and forth through the decades to highlight the changing musicians, but also to showcase the constant connection they share with Silk Road.  This cultural musical ensemble breathes life into the concept of playing together.  These individuals masters have continued to come together to bring about a movement of music.  Their stories share many accolades, awards and memories but the individual qualities of each musician allows for such unique perspective.  The film doesn't linger but does a great job of bouncing back and forth to each dynamic figure.  The film is not a historical look back, but the amazing footage from these folks history is still super interesting.  These fine folks are not only amazing musicians but incredible human beings.


The film takes a drastic turn with in the first 45 minutes as the impact of 9-11 on these foreigners who call NYC home.  Kinan Azemh & Kayhan Kahlor's tales of their changing middle eastern homes is a real highlight of the documentary.  Two men separated by numerous countries but sharing the same pain, sorrow and eventual enlightenment.  Kinan's open discussion of how 9-11 changed the way folks looked and felt about him.  The way in which war and government upheaval has touched many of the Silk Road ensemble members is an unexpected element in the movie.  Wu Man's whole foray into music was done under the gaze of the communist government of China.  The way in which culture was literally "started over" by the communist and how kids like Wu Man became symbols of change is fascinating.  Morgan Neville's documentary strives to be global and by looking at war it accomplishes creating a universal feeling amongst the ensemble of survival.  The folks have lived through terrible things and yet music has always lead them in the right direction.  Kayhan Kahlor's openness in talking about how war killed his entire family was devastating and yet uplifting at the same time.  A documentary that is more about how music changes life rather than life altering music.  


If their is a theme throughout is that Art is important and artists should never give up on the power behind their art.  Yo Yo Ma's passion in finding music of the world has allowed for new creativity in the musical spectrum.  These aren't folks playing the classics (though they all are masters of those classics).  These are folks reinventing their notion of what a classic truly can be.  The coming together of these unique figures allows for a new creative force.  That ensemble is growing the concepts, exposure and usage of music.  The documentary shows how all of these figures have rebellious elements that have made them successful.  A kind and timid looking figure like Yo Yo Ma has completely blown up the concepts and beliefs of what a Cellist can do and be.  His life is an example of just going full tilt on the art you love and not worrying about the fear of living up to the old legacies.  Here is a man that famously told Charlie Rose he'd like to do an album with the Bushman of Africa.  We that rebel went and did that and has done so much more since that time.  Yo Yo and his band of super talented musical brethren are the bold figures that challenge how music can impact.  A documentary that is educational, emotional, empathetic and utterly inspirational. 

Find this gem of a film and enjoy the journey it takes you on.

For more information on the movie please go, here.

And for more info on The Silk Road Ensemble please go, here.

The Music of Strangers 2 of 5

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