Yo-Yo Ma : Notes for the Future Review
By Illiam Sebitz
Yo-Yo Ma is back with another powerful musical journey for listeners to explore and relish. The new album is called Notes for the Future, and it brings an extraordinary group of musicians together from five continents. The album contains nine tracks and features Ma with Angélique Kidjo, Mashrou’ Leila, Tunde Olaniran, Jeremy Dutcher, Andrea Motis, ABAO, Lila Downs, and Marlon Williams to explore our fears and hopes, reminding us that the future is ours to shape, together. The music on the album is a global journey with the goal of using culture to help us imagine and build a better world. The nine songs’ lyrics are wide-ranging and contain Arabic, Zapotec, Catalan, Paiwan, Spanish, Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqey, Ewe, Maori, and English. Notes for the Future celebrate the wisdom of the generations that were and the possibility of those to come.
“Honor Song” is a collaboration between Ma and Jeremy Dutcher. A press release describes it as “a Mi’kmaq anthem…that invokes our collective responsibility to care for the planet we share.” Dutcher’s singing is inspiring as it is filled with emotion, artistry, and a controlled technical ability that flows effortlessly. Dutcher shared a photo with Ma on Instagram, writing, “This collaboration changed my life, and I’m so grateful to him for sharing his platform and allowing so many more people to hear our songs + languages!” Dutcher’s singing carries the song as light percussion keeps the pulse, and Ma adds sustained cello figures and melodic fragments. Ma’s chords are balanced, and his accents on the cello further enriches the rhythmic structure of the song. A powerful piece that has dramatic singing and stunning chordal playing by Ma.
“Thank You” is a collaboration with Ma and Zhang Shaochun, known professionally as Abao, a Chinese folk singer from Shanxi. This song is very moving with a beautiful melody, a male and female choir, and Ma’s warm lyrical cello playing. A piano is added for a new sonic texture too. Abao’s voice is fluid, and she sings in both Chinese and English. The melody has elements of a chant combined with folk melody clarity. The bridge is a dramatic build of singing by both Abao and the choir. The result is a song that brings joy and peace with its beautiful sonics of culture, instruments, and singing.
Notes for the Future is a gorgeous project by Ma. His inclusion of sounds and musicians from around the world is a delight to hear and shows his diverse understanding of different cultures and music styles. The music is eclectic, beautiful, and flows logically from start to finish. There are moments of classical music, pop, world, folk, and even rap. Along with music lover’s, vocalists will especially find Notes for the Future interesting because of the varied vocal styles and abilities in this collection of songs. Ma’s musical vision of creating unity through music is outstanding and is clearly achievable based on the success and musical power by all participants involved with Notes for the Future.
Label: Sony Classical
Release Date: September 10, 2021