Los Angeles (AFP) – Cello virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma on Sunday won a Grammy with his Silk Road Ensemble for “Sing Me Home,” an exploration of the musical connections across Eurasia.
The French-born Chinese American cellist had previously won an impressive 17 Grammys but his latest is his first for Best World Music Album.
Ma set up The Silk Road Ensemble to bring together musicians from the historic route that connected the Middle East and Asia, in hopes both of finding artistic commonalities and furthering the cause of intercultural understanding.
“Sing Me Home” started with deliberately loose guidelines, as skilled artists from the Silk Road chose works that were personally important to them and jammed with other musicians, spontaneously finding their own form of fusion.
“We were strangers but having worked together over the past 15, 20 years has enriched our lives tremendously,” the Russian-born, New York-based violinist Jonathan Gandelsman said as he accepted the award in a ceremony before the main Grammy telecast.
The album was released to accompany a documentary on Ma’s project entitled “The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble.”
Musicians on the album include the New York-based Syrian clarinet player Kinan Azmeh, who was recently stranded overseas when US President Donald Trump imposed a sweeping ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries even if they had visas or legal residency.
Azmeh was able to return after a court blocked Trump’s order — he took part in a solidarity concert of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra that featured music from the blacklisted countries.
“When things like this happen, it impacts us directly because a lot of us come from a lot of those countries,” Indian tabla player Sandeep Das told reporters after accepting the award.
He said that the ensemble sent a “powerful message of unity” as it taught the musicians — and the audiences — to respect one another’s cultures.
“In the current situation, I think we’ll keep playing more music and sharing more love,” Das said.
“Sing Me Home” won out in a category that included sitarist Anoushka Shankar’s “Land of Gold,” which reflects on the global refugee crisis, and a live album by Brazilian legends Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.