Documentary Film by Wadi Rum Productions
If you’ve ever heard Tuva throat singing and been fascinated by it, this is a film to watch. Aside from that, it tells the poignant and truly inspirational story of blind blues musician Paul Pena. In the mid-80s he first heard throat singing via shortwave radio transmitting from Moscow and was enthralled. It took eight long years, but he tracked down the source, found a recording and proceeded to teach himself the unusual harmonics involved in this technique coming from the tiny Republic of Tuva, between Siberia and Mongolia. He also began to teach himself the spoken language.
In 1993 Tuvan throat singers came to the USA on their first tour and Paul attended a concert. There he met Kongar-ol Ondar, revered in Tuva, and broke out in an extemporaneous demonstration of his self-taught throat singing. Kongar-ol was amazed and invited Paul to Tuva for the international symposium. The film follows Paul and his friends as they traveled across the world and made fast friends of the Tuvan people who fondly called him “Earthquake” after the quality of his voice. This was not an easy journey for Paul who had to deal not only with the limitations of blindness, but also poor health. He set it all aside for this adventure and his love of music.
In his day Paul Pena played with many blues greats and wrote the 1970s hit “Jet Airliner” recorded by the Steve Miller Band. The documentary won the Audience Award at Sundance in 1999 and awards at several other film festivals. A CD is also available called “Genghis Blues” that combines Paul’s roots of American blues, Cape Verdian morna music and Tuva throat singing. Sadly, Paul passed in 2005.
DVD available through Netflix and other sources. View promo video here: a story of courage, intent and passion perfect for our times.
Here’s a bonus. You can watch Paul singing “Jet Airliner” and throat singing on You Tube.