Combustible Celluloid
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With: Yo-Yo Ma, Kinan Azmeh, Kayhan Kalhor, Wu Man, Cristina Pato
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Morgan Neville
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running Time: 96
Date: 06/24/2016

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Singing Them Home

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet from Stardom, Best of Enemies, Keith Richards: Under the Influence) directs this story of Yo-Yo Ma's celebrated but once-controversial band. Ma started the Silk Road Ensemble in 2000 after hitting something of a mid-life crisis; he had been a child prodigy, famous since the age of 7, and wanted to do something more significant. He assembled international musicians like Chinese pipa master Wu Man, Damascus-born clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, Iranian-born kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor, and Galacian bagpiper Cristina Pato (the band is much bigger, and members rotate in and out, but the film focuses on this handful). Critics initially balked, calling it watered-down music, a betrayal of each individual culture, but eventually the music itself won out. Neville looks at cultural barriers, both sturdy and broken, around the musicians, and tries to find a balance between the joyous music itself and the explanation of where the music comes from and what it means. The result is enjoyable, but feels perhaps a bit slight, as if, with a little more time, more depth may have been achieved.

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