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Yo-Yo Ma (feat. Tunde Olaniran), 'Doorway'

As we near the year's end, #NowPlaying recommends songs that slipped through the cracks, but remain in our headphones.

Yo-Yo Ma and Tunde Olaniran are both omnivorous, multi-hyphenate musicians, but you wouldn't necessarily think to place them in the same song. Still, pairing the classical cellist with the Michigan iconoclast makes a fair bit of sense: Neither cares much for genre boundaries, with Ma expanding the definition of what constitutes classical music and Olaniran blending pop, R&B, hip-hop and dance music with bold statements of affirmation and ambition.

In "Doorway," Olaniran sings about an uncertain future with an emphasis on making the most of the present: "When we're nothing but dust and the sun burns up / Can we really say we did what we could? / I just need to find a way out / And bring up everyone that I love." For his part, Ma gives the song a sense of grandeur and sweep, opening "Doorway" solo before giving way to Olaniran and then popping back in for a solo that only deepens the drama.

Ma's 2021 album Notes for the Future pairs the Grammy-festooned superstar with collaborators from five different continents; in addition to Olaniran, he works with Angelique Kidjo, Jeremy Dutcher, Lila Downs and others who share his desire to stretch artistically. In "Doorway," Ma and Olaniran do just that, thriving somewhere between their respective comfort zones — and making the world feel a little more connected in the process.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)