The Silk Road Ensemble is a musical collective and a part of the Silk Road Project. The ensemble is not a fixed group of musicians, but rather a loose collective of as many as 60 musicians, composers, arrangers, visual artists and storytellers from various Eurasian cultures interested in maintaining the authenticity of their own cultural heritage and, at the same time, exchanging ideas across ostensibly dissimilar cultures. Initiated by Yo-Yo Ma, acclaimed virtuoso American cellist in 1998, the Project promotes collaboration among artists and institutions, promoting multicultural artistic exchange, and studying the ebb and flow of ideas among different cultures along the Silk Road.
If the Dewarists was a music show that did justice to the beauty and diversity of Indian music, The Silk Road Ensemble is a collaboration of ancient and medieval cultures connected by the Silk Route, a 4000 mile network of trade routes that gave Europe the zero and Indian armies cannons. And here I describe one of the albums, Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon.
Imagine a caravan travelling with the freshly cultivated Kesar from the valleys of Kashmir stopping at a caravanserai in Georgia. As the evening draws near, and the traders gather around the fire, chords are struck and the Akhalkalaki dance, endemic to their Georgian town is performed, much to the delight of the weary traders. Imagine the emotions that a trader experiences upon looking down on Constantinople, or the beautiful green valley of Kashmir after months of an arduous journey. Imagine the breathtaking scenery of a Chinese countryside, or the sight of thousands of horses galloping in a remote mountain country in North Asia.
The album uses a variety of instruments and artists, with the cello and/or violin being a base for many of the songs. So the piano plays with the tabla, and kamancha, to create music that touches the soul. Many endemic percussion and string instruments are fused with the cello, and Chinese lutes are used extensively, while vocals are featured on a couple of tracks. I cannot comment more on the instruments used, as the variety of tones and beats is massive.
"Good" is too small a word for the music in this album. This music does not soothe, it does not make one feel good. This music moves people. It moves some to tears. It makes you want to escape the daily routine of life, and join that caravan of medieval times. It makes you long for the peace and solitude of places you haven't ever seen. It makes you a king in his court, a traveler scaling a mountain pass or a shepherd in his home valley. It transports you to the realm of old times, when barter trade existed, when harams existed and were part of culture, and when Europe was seen as a distant and mystic land, far way, only seen by the long-haired wizened old man who had traveled the Silk Road.
I take leave with this track posted below, and I hope it touches your heart as it did mine.