The Silk Road criss-crossed through Asia and the East from Europe to China carrying merchandise, particularly silk, between the two continents. In the days before shipping was a reliable form of travel, without the Suez Canal the only way from Europe to Asia was via bottom most tip of Africa and there was as much chance of going down as making that passage successfully in the early days of sailing, the overland route was considered a lot safer. The Silk road wasn't of course an actual road, and the caravan routes that it was made up of traversed many countries and went in as many directions as there was trade to be conducted.
Aside from the obvious trade implications, the Silk Road also represented the first real communications between Europe, China, Japan, and the other countries of that region. As always, although believing itself superior, the West benefited most from the exchange bringing home pasta, silks, spices, and of course gunpowder. Although there wasn't necessarily reciprocity in the exchange between the two cultures, the idea of naming a musical ensemble interested in bringing together Eastern and Western music after the earliest known trade route between the two cultures makes a great deal of sense.
Which is exactly what world renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma did when he formed The Silk Road Ensemble a collective of around 60 musician, composers, arrangers, visual artists, and storytellers from twenty plus countries. Not only is the intent of the group to integrate the work of one culture with another, it's to do so while maintaining the integrity of an art form's cultural traditions. Is it possible to take a piece of work composed by a Latin American composer and have it performed on traditional Chinese and Indian instruments while remaining true to both the composer's and performers' traditions? As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding, and in this case that's the forthcoming release on the World Village Music of the ensemble's new release Off The Map on November 10, '09.