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.
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.