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Genghis Blues

Genghis Blues

Director:Roko Belic
Cast:Paul Pena
Genre:Film, Documentary

By Lee Gardner | Posted 11/28/2007

Back in the %u201880s, musician and short-wave radio enthusiast Paul Pena tuned in to a Radio Moscow broadcast of throat-singers from the Asian republic of Tuva, and it changed his life. Genghis Blues (1999), the rough-hewn first feature from filmmaker brothers Roko and Adrian Belic, documents Pena's obsession as he travels to Tuva to compete in a throat-singing competition and in the process forges a musical and spiritual kinship with an obscure people literally half a world away. Pena, who is blind, taught himself throat-singing-no mean feat, considering the muscular control it takes to produce the multitone sound. When a Tuvan arts troupe came to Pena's San Francisco hometown, he so impressed Tuvan superstar Kongar-ol Ondar that Ondar invited him to Tuva to compete with lifelong throat-singers. After assembling a motley crew of helpers and enthusiasts, Pena and the Belics did so in 1995. In Tuva, Pena meets throat-singers he reveres and plays a little blues for them. An unknown misfit back home (though he did pen the Steve Miller Band's hit "Jet Airliner"), Pena is embraced in Tuva as a celebrity cultural ambassador; the moment when he performs in the chest-rumbling kargyraa style for a cheering crowd is as poignant as it is beyond imagination.

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