The Music of Strangers

The Music of Strangers


The filmmaker behind the Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom captures a globe-spanning experiment started by cellist Yo-Yo Ma where a diverse range of cultures put their musical sensibilities together to make something new.

Flicks Review

After the marathon of movie misery I’ve experienced at NZIFF and a post-Brexit newsfeed that can’t stop talking about countries that want to stay divided, I needed this film to remind me of the beauty that can bloom when cultures collaborate. Simple? Yes. Fluffy? Perhaps. But the musicians’ philosophies are clear, their motivation undeniable, and the music they create is – purely – rousing. The perfect companion piece to Poi E: The Story of Our Song.

[Mini-Review From The 2016 NZIFF]

The Peoples' Reviews

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BY cinemusefilm superstar

Documentaries exist to document truths and a great documentary conveys a living journey where characters and events lead the story rather than the other way around. The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble (2015) is a truly great documentary of inspirational musical bravado, authenticity and humanity. What may appear to be a biographical film about one of the planet's most famous cellists is actually a complex multi-layered conversation about the philosophy of music and its... More power to dissolve cultural boundaries.

Yo-Yo Ma was a child prodigy and has always been a cello superstar without ever actually deciding to be a musician. After almost half a century of immersion in a world of fame and musical accomplishment, Yo-Yo came to question who he was and what music meant. He reasoned that the answer lay beyond his existing cultural reach so he gathered outstanding musicians from different backgrounds to fuse musical styles and traditions in new harmonic synergies. In exploring his journey, the film enters diverse musical cultures through the eyes and words of different musicians, many having experienced homeland tragedy. A variety of unique traditional instruments are heard in both their countries of origin and in the melting pot of the Silk Road Ensemble with musical styles borrowed from genres as diverse as hard rock, folk, hip-hop, jazz and classical. The cinematography is brilliant and viscerally engaging. One of the more memorable scenes is a hip-hop ballet dancer in blue jeans and sneakers imitating an awakening swan with movement so fluid you'd swear he was skating on ice to the hauntingly beautiful sounds of Yo-Yo's cello.

Unscripted narration by many voices provides a kind of freeform improvisation that harmonises with the joyful highs and mournful lows of exotic music. But words only add another layer of narrative to the images and sounds that are this film's real voice. Filmed over four years and across eight countries, the Ensemble has progressed from experimentation to a semi-permanent consortium of 50 performers that has produced nine albums, won 16 Grammy awards and has been heard by millions across the globe. The film could have simply glorified Yo-Yo but it aims for higher ground. It's about the role of music in self-discovery and its power to create meaning, incite emotion, and bridge cultural divides. It is a film that will leave you elated.Hide

The Press Reviews

84% of critics recommend.
Rotten Tomatoes Score. More reviews on Rotten Tomatoes

  • It's admirably high-minded, and internationalism and openness have never been needed more. But I must admit to finding this ... not complacent exactly, but perhaps too serenely self-regarding. Full Review

  • The focus is on the individuals, emphasising the unifying power of song - as well as Ma's humanitarianism. Full Review

  • "Strangers" offers an inspiring look at creative people from very different walks of life who nonetheless communicate beautifully with one another. They don't need to speak a common language: Their dazzling music says it all. Full Review

  • "The Music of Strangers" is an aural celebration that's about using the past to break free of boundaries. Full Review

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