The Music of Strangers: A Review

By: Brett Slaughenhaupt – Movie Columnist

Nowadays the effects of politics seem to generate more hostility than unity. Just a continual creation of wedges and severing. We see it in our own country and around the world: a constant state of negativity. Now add to wars, poverty, oppression and God knows what else, things start to feel a bit overwhelming; a bit hopeless. That is what makes the documentary The Music of Strangers a much-needed breath of fresh air.

This film takes on the politics that drag so many down but, in turn, allows it to bring people together. That is because art and beauty, as they exist naturally in the world, are on the forefront of  the musicians minds. They examine the politics of what it means to be human, even when faced with the terrific horrors of our modern world.

Our point of entry in this documentary is Yo-Yo Ma, famed cellist. He has traveled the world in search of great musicians and created a symphony of international talents called The Silk Road Ensemble. Of course they are named after the historic Silk Road, a trade route connecting China and Europe, making it easier to pass goods (and cultural ideals) from one to another. In this context, The Silk Road Ensemble shows what it means to come together as individuals to work and play as one.

An hour and a half zips by as we quickly delve into the different musicians lives and the hardships they have endured. This is where the film truly shines and sets itself apart as the unique piece of work that it is. We meet a Syrian man who has not seen his wife in years for fear of the government, a Spanish woman who has taken her town’s traditional music and turned it into her own, and then a group of men who very well may be the last generation to play their music as they do. The one fault of this documentary is its inability to go more in depth into the musician’s story. It leaves us wanting more and challenges us to seek it out.

These musicians are not politicians or radical leaders in any way, but when they all play as a group, you can feel the world becoming a little bit better. Wu Man, a musician in The Silk Road, says it best: “We don’t speak perfect English, or perfect Chinese, or perfect Persian, but we speak perfect music language.”

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