The Music of Strangers

The Music of Strangers

(2015)

The only way to change the world is to make a little noise.

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 create something new.

Flicks Review

How can we create fresh music if we obsess with staying traditional? It’s a question that La La Land asked and then sort of brushed aside, leaving it to The Music of Strangers to explore. The film follows The Silk Road Project, an orchestral version of The Avengers made up of different musicians from around the world who each play an cultural instrument like it’s a superpower. The Captain America of this group is Yo-Yo Ma, a Paris-born Chinese cello prodigy who grew up in the United States. Their mission is simple: create new musical art. ... More

Contrary to my bonkers superhero analogy, these musicians are pretty realistic about what they do in relation to all the world’s problems. (Syrian artist Kinan Azmeh straight up states that a piece of music isn’t going to stop bullets or feed the starving.) But anything that gives a human being meaning is valuable, and with effortless elegance, The Music of Strangers expresses exactly that about musicians and the songs they create.

A mutual curiosity of other cultures’ music brings The Silk Road group together, but how they gained that curiosity differs. Whether it’s a search for personal identity or a need to get out of their current situation, the film packages all these details so concisely that nothing feels padded out.

Director Morgan Neville doesn’t reinvent the documentary wheel here, but by playing it straight, he allows the music to speak for itself. It’s those musical voices that power the film, and by gaining a clear understanding of what brought these individuals together, it makes their combined sound feel essential to this world.

If cultural unity can be so beautiful to the ears, imagine what other experiences lie dormant. We just need to keep listening to each other.Hide


The Peoples' Reviews

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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

  • A first-rate music film capturing a restless desire to communicate beyond the boundaries of any single idiom. 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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