Words by Simon Broughton
This Silk Road is now a multi-lane super-highway
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma founded the Silk Road Ensemble in 2000 to explore the music of the cultures along the ancient Silk Road, but has spread its reach much further with performers and composers from over 20 countries. This, their sixth album, is their most diverse in terms of repertoire and global reach.
Over 13 tracks there’s a Kronos-like range of musical worlds explored, from China and Tuva on ‘Green (Vincent’s Tune)’ (featuring throat singing from Roomful of Teeth); to Mali on ‘Ichichila’, featuring Toumani Diabaté on kora and Balla Kouyaté on balafon; and India on ‘Madhoushi’ featuring Shujaat Khan on sitar and vocals. There are plenty of American guests too, including Sarah Jarosz on ‘Little Birdie’, Rhiannon Giddens on the gorgeous ‘St James Infirmary Blues’ and Abigail Washburn on ‘Going Home’, the ‘spiritual’ from Dvořák’s New World Symphony made famous by Paul Robeson. Only Washburn sings it in Chinese!
It could be a frightful mess, of course, but producers Johnny Gandelsman and Kevin Killen (U2, Kate Bush, Elvis Costello) pull it together, finding great cello lines for Yo-Yo Ma and making a coherent whole.