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Silk Road Radio

We asked Tom Schnabel of KCRW's Schnabel on Schnabel to create a playlist of music inspired by the Silk Road. Check out this musical journey! 

The Music of the Silk Road
by Tom Schnabel

The Silk Road designates a number of interconnected trade routes that cover 4000 miles and goes all the way back to the third century B.C. It gets its name from the lucrative Chinese silk trade. The Chinese were the first to raise silk worms and produce silk. Trade opened up between the Chinese and then the Mongols with the Europeans , the Persians and the Middle East. In the 13th Century, Marco Polo first travelled to China to meet Kubla Khan, successor to Genghis Khan and head of the vast Mongol Empire.

The Crusades also brought Europeans to the Middle East. The Ottoman Turks, after taking back the Byzantine capital of Constantinople in 1453, later lost the decisive battle of Vienna in 1679.

All these events occasioned much travel, the discovery of other cultures and their riches. Gold was traded for salt in some places. Gold was also traded for silk. Later came the Spice trade, with the Dutch and Portuguese bringing back nutmeg, cinnamon, and other spices to embellish the otherwise tasteless food Europeans were eating.

That being said, here are some video links: Wu Man, Chinese pipa virtuoso:

The Masters of Persian Music, featuring Kayhan Kalhor

The late Indian sarod master Ali Akbar Khan performing one of my favorite ragas, Chandranandan:

The beautiful and hypnotic whirling Mehlevi dervishes from Istanbul:

For further listening and viewing:

  • Ravi Shankar, Raga (DVD biography of Indian giant)
  • Ravi Shankar, Nine Decades, vol. 1, 1967-1968
  • Shanghai Jazz:  Musical Seductions from China’s Age of Decadence
  • Shanghai Divas (original and remixes)
  • Sa Dingding, Harmony