News / Arts & Entertainment

Silk Road Ensemble Celebrates Cultural Harmony

Adam Phillips
The diverse musicality of the Silk Road Ensemblesome hyper-traditional, some simply hybridmirrors the endless variety along the ancient Silk Road itself. 

Spices, fragrant oils, gems and silk were bought and sold along the 6,500-kilometer trading route that stretched from China to the Mediterranean.

However, cellist and U.N. Peace Ambassador Yo-Yo Ma says cross-cultural exchanges and understanding were the ancient route’s most precious products.

Ma founded the 31-member ensemble, whose members represent 20 countries, to express that spirit of exploration and sharing.

“What we tried to do in music and in culture is look at what do we have in common,” he said.

When Cristina Pato first played the Galician bagpipe as a child, she never dreamed she would travel with it beyond the villages and pastures of rural Spain.

"Being able to share my tradition with Sandeep Das from India, with Koji from Japan, with Kehan from Persia, and finding that there are way more fields that connect all of us than things that in my head were separating us, that to me was a turning point and a really amazingly enlightening experience,” Pato said.

Ma has carefully built trust among ensemble members, each of whom is a virtuoso within his or her own tradition. Yet they easily collaborate and improvise with each other.

“So one person maybe comes up with an idea, and we follow," he said. "And then another person from another tradition, another sector, leads and then we can go that way.”

Indian tabla player Sandeep Das loves finding common ground with his colleagues.

“It’s the joy and the trust that help us do things together that seemingly seem different on the surface, but are definitely inherently one and the same thing,” Das said.

The Silk Road musicians bring that inclusive spirit to settings both intimate and grand, such as at the Shanghai Special Olympics in 2007.
 
"It’s full participation because, as a philosophy, I think one way we can define any culture is how that society treats its least fortunate citizens," Ma said.

The Tanglewood summer music festival in Massachusetts is the ensemble family's primary residence. The documentary film Live from Tanglewood shows the musicians relaxing, workshopping, and performing as a group, in creative and unusual pairings and as solo artists.

What Ma calls “passion-driven” education is at the heart of the ensemble’s mission. After tours, Silk Road members often stay behind to conduct music classes in locales like China, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Brazil.

In the U.S., Silk Road Ensemble members offer workshops in conservatories and public schools.

Ma believes the arts help strike a balance between self-knowledge and awareness of the larger world.

“I think we want that to sort of be the engine that drives the curiosity," Ma said. "To actually find how many places you can call home, how many ways you can actually make something your own.”

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Suzanne Day from: Vancouver Wa U S A
January 14, 2014 12:43 PM
Yo Yo has such sweet joy on his face as he performs. Thank you for your devotion to peace and to music. You are so loved.

by: Donna Hanson from: Campbell River, BC,
January 13, 2014 10:04 PM
I cannot convey to you, Yo Yo Ma, how much I applaud your vision and efforts in this endeavour!!!!!!! The whole world just has to take note and follow suit and many of our problems would be solved <3 GOOD ON YOU AND A BIG THANK YOU! Let's hope we see a ripple effect! See, one person can make a huge difference!!!!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”