Cultural Diplomacy: New music documentary, The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble ~ The Manhattan Project of Music: Wonder, truth and being open as an antidote to paranoia, hate & terror

The Music of Strangers - Yo-Yo Ma“I’m drawn to what I don’t know versus what I do know … What I don’t know is, for me, the source of all knowledge, everything you know is actually very little.


… The clearest reason for music, for culture is it gives us meaning.”


– Yo-Yo Ma, cellist, 18 Grammys winner, The Silk Road Project founder



Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and other international artists of The Silk Road Project discuss their philosophies on music and culture.

The Music of Strangers - Manhatan ProjectThis was like the Manhattan Project of Music. No one knew what was going to happen.”



The Music of Strangers - Possibilities leads to hope“Art is about linking to possibilities; possibilities leads to hope. We all need hope.”



The Music of Strangers - Can music stop a bullet“That’s a new way of thinking … about music, about what people can do together. … Since I left Syria, I found myself experiencing emotions far more complex like, ‘can a piece of music stop a bullet.’”


The Music of Strangers - No East West only Global“There is no East, West. It’s just a globe.”




“We don’t speak perfect English or perfect Chinese or perfect Persian, but we speak perfect Music language.”



The Music of Strangers - Experiment“Being part of this experiment, makes me understand what it means to be alive.”



The Music of Strangers - Answer of Human spirit“By trying to kill the human spirit, the answer of the human spirit is to revenge with beauty.”



The Music of Strangers - Language of music 1“Everybody is afraid but you make a connection to another human being and you can turn fear into joy.”

The Music of Strangers - The Silk Road Ensemble

The spirit of creativity is INFECTIOUS.”

– John Defore, The Hollywood Reporter.

Yo-Yo Ma discusses instruments of change in new documentary

By: Richard Crouse for Metro News. Published on Thu Jul 07 2016

In a new documentary called The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, world famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma says being a musician is a life of child-like wonder.

Performing since the age of five, by seven he had played for presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. Since then he has appeared with all the world’s great orchestras, released 90 albums and won 18 Grammys.


“The idea of being a musician means that you have access to wonder. When you become too adult-like and concerned about responsibility you tend to push wonder aside.


That moment where you take a step back and look at where we are and look at what the world is about. Those are decisions we have to remake every single day — to engage, to love and care for and to recommit. It’s a form of positive will and expression.


If you don’t have that you can’t do anything. To me it is the ultimate antidote to paranoia, to hate, to terror is to care about things. To care about truth and be open.


– Yo-Yo Ma, The Silk Road Project founder


The cellist’s openness led him on a 20-year journey to form The Silk Road Ensemble, a loose collective of international master musicians named after the ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean. Featuring instruments from the Silk Road region, Ma mixes and matches his cello with the exotic sounds of the pipa, a Chinese short-necked plucked lute, a Mongolian horse head fiddle called a morin khuur and a Shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute among others to produce an otherworldly sound that blends different cultures and styles.


“It’s not so much what makes stuff different but more the fact that we work in such a connected world.


Part of it is that, and part of it is to recognize the strength of individuality but also inherent in that strength is flexibility. It doesn’t mean that because the bagpipe is louder than the violin we should never put the two together. It’s more like, unlikely bedfellows, ‘O my gosh, there could be something extraordinary that could come from that.’”


– Yo-Yo Ma, The Silk Road Project founder


The movie, directed by Morgan Neville, who won an Oscar and a Grammy for his 2013 documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, chronicles the evolution of the collective and the individual journeys of the players. Wrapped around those portraits is the story of the group’s most famous member. Ma is revealed to be a thoughtful man with a wandering, restless creative spirit.

“I was scared to death before doing something like this. I’m drawn to what I don’t know versus what I do know. I think my life is kind of boring because if you ask me questions about myself you will very often get the same answers. I know the answers. What little I know I can tell you about but that is not particularly interesting. What I don’t know is, for me, the source of all knowledge, everything you know is actually very little.”


– Yo-Yo Ma, The Silk Road Project founder

Source: Metro News | Toronto | Entertainment | Yo-Yo Ma discusses instruments of change in new documentary


The Silk Road Project & The Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Creative Collaboration between the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and Yo-Yo Ma dates back to the genesis of The Silk Road Project, where during the 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC, AKTC was the lead creative partner.

The Festival celebrated the traditional arts of peoples of the Silk Road lands. For the first time in its 36-year history, the Smithsonian  dedicated the festival to a single theme: “The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust.” Mawlana Hazar Imam and former U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, inaugurated the Festival.

The Festival presented 350 international artists whose stories and history were linked to the cultural mosaic of the Silk Road, an enduring symbol of cultural discovery and exchange. Yo-Yo Ma and an international group of musicians known as the Silk Road Ensemble performed compositions which the Silk Road Project commissioned from composers from Silk Road countries – China, Mongolia, Korea, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey.

Since then, the Silk Road Ensemble has performed with the musician artists of the Aga Khan Music Initiative of Central Asia (AKMICA) and Yo-Yo Ma has conducted music workshop in AKMICA programme countries. In addition, Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, have performed at various Aga Award for Architecture (AKAA) award ceremonies round the world. With growing influence, impact and geographical scope of reach in South Asia, Middle East and West Africa, Aga Khan Music Initiative of Central Asia (AKMICA) is now simply referred to as Aga Khan Music Initiative (AKMI).

More recently, Yo-Yo Ma has had performances and workshops at the Aga Khan Museum.

Since the genesis of The Silk Road Project, Yo-Yo Ma has also enjoyed the long term support and guidance of Prince Amyn in The Silk Road Project’s strategic and programmatic undertakings. Prince Amyn has been the Founding Supporter, Member of the Board of Directors, Sustaining Patron and Advisor to the Silk Road Encounters Project Educational Programs.



About The Silk Road Project

The Silk Road Project aims to illuminate the Silk Road’s historical contribution to the cross-cultural diffusion of arts, technologies, and musical traditions, identify the voices that best represent its cultural legacy today, and support innovative collaborations among outstanding artists from the lands of the Silk Road and the West.


About The Aga Khan Trust for Culture

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), established in 1988 in Geneva, Switzerland, is a private, non-denominational, philanthropic foundation that focuses on cultural revitalisation as a means to promote physical, social and economic well being in countries where Muslims have a significant presence. In addition to the programmes noted above, the Trust administers: the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the world’s largest architectural prize; the Historic Cities Support Programme concerned with the conservation and re-use of buildings and spaces in historic cities through projects in Bosnia, Egypt, Pakistan, Spain, Syria, Uzbekistan and Zanzibar; support for the Aga Khan Programme in Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); in collaboration with MIT, ArchNet, an interactive global Internet-based network that links architects, planners and universities around the world.

Research, Insight & Perspective by A. Maherali


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