The Cross-Cultural Collaboration of The Silk Road Ensemble

Whether they are looking for answers, or wanting to distract themselves from everything going on in the public sphere, humans turn to music for comfort. The problems currently affecting our world are multiple: wars, social issues, violence, etc, and “The Silk Road Ensemble” has become one of our most important escapes. The Silk Road Ensemble brings together musicians, sounds, and cultures from all around the planet and creates genre-defying music, built on collaboration and cross-cultural conversation. The Grammy-winning Ensemble consists of musicians, composers, and storytellers that unite under a singular goal: To bring a diverse group of musicians from a variety of cultures together as a means of sharing ideas and introducing new music styles to their audience.

The Silk Road Ensemble project was first inspired by the cultural traditions of the historical Eurasian Silk Road trade routes, and was created to bridge the gaps between different cultures. The Ensembles founder, Yo-Yo Ma, created the group to learn how music brings people together around the world. In an interview with Japan Times, Yo-Yo Ma spoke about globalization in today’s culture:

“One of the things I came to realize through my travels was how fast the world is changing; the influences of people who are geographically distant are more visible — it’s a phenomenon that some call globalization. The historical Silk Road is an extraordinary example of that. I was inspired to start the Silkroad project because I saw many people who were responding to globalization with fear. I wanted [them to see] the benefits of living in a connected world.”

All of the music that The Ensemble creates is uniquely different, unique nothing sounding the same. By expanding the definition of what “classical music” is, The Ensemble uses different non-western types of instruments and showcases different types of people and cultures musically. This variation from the traditional “classical music” sound one may expect, sounds brand new to modernized American (or Western) ears. Certain songs demonstrate different people/cultures/countries, making their entire discography unprecedentedly interesting to listen to. It’s alternatingly rousing, joyous, raptly hypnotic, and haunting.

Given that The Ensemble focuses on global music, there are musicians who specialize in specific styles and traditions of different cultures. Each having their own different types of instruments and cultural sound, some of the artists speak different languages from one another, and at times can’t even read music upon joining The Ensemble. However, the musicians communicate through their one common language: music. The way that they collaborate and write is beautiful. Each musician brings a specific style of music to the group, and the blending of sound that they create would not be possible without each of these different perspectives that they contribute.

The Ensemble is not solely focused on performance; it is a part of a greater organization, called Silkroad. Silkroad itself states that, “Silkroad creates music that engages difference, sparking radical cultural collaboration and passion-driven learning to build a more hopeful world.” Through Silkroad, Ensemble musicians lead learning programs that help schools, communities, and museums with music programs. By harnessing their open-minded energy, the musicians consider The Silk Road Ensemble a place for people to experiment with new genres, people, and forms of media in order to share cultural collaboration.

Silkroad works in a variety of different ways–small, intimate groups in settings such as museums, dozens of musicians working together in large concert halls, musical outings open to the public, and more. The Ensemble is able to work in such a variety of different ways, due to the fact that the participating musicians are not only musicians, but also teachers, producers, writers, and advocates of this diverse music. The music that The Ensemble creates sparks the conversation around culturally diverse music and the passion that surrounds it. Each person brings a different level of experience to the group, allowing the information as well as simply the passion to spread to new people. Looking to bridge the gaps between different cultures, The Silk Road Ensemble is doing important work in the world today. By bringing in its multitude of artists and collaborators, it is forever changing and no one knows what uniquely powerful composition or indispensable outreach projects The Ensemble will do next.

My advice? Pay attention to The Silk Road Ensemble. By constantly bringing in a multitude of new artists and collaborators, it is forever changing and evolving, creating uniquely powerful compositions or indispensable outreach projects. It is important that we watch what they do next, as they create genre-defying music based on cross-cultural collaboration, one note at a time.


(1) Comment

  1. Prentice Pilot says:

    Who drew the illustration for the Silk Road piece? We might like to commission a piece by the artist. Thank you.

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