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The extraordinary odyssey of a U.S. musician of Cape Verdean ancestry to Tannu Tuva, in central Asia, where nomadic people throat sing more than one note simultaneously, using vocal harmonics. A bluesman, Paul Pena, blind and recently widowed, taught himself throat singing and was by chance invited to the 1995 throat-singing symposium in Kyzyl. Helped by the "Friends of Tuva," Pena makes the arduous journey. Singing in the deep, rumbling kargyraa style, Pena gives inspired performances at the festival, composes songs in Tuvan, washes his face in sacred rivers, expresses the disorientation of blindness in foreign surroundings, and makes a human connection with everyone he meets. Written by
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In 1995, an eclectic group of San Francisco musicians and their friends took a trip to the remote Russian-Mongolian region of Tuva, where one of them entered a throat-singing contest. The whole thing was filmed and this is the result.
Paul "Earthquake" Pena is a blind San Francisco blues singer-guitarist-harmonica player who has worked with the likes of B.B. King, Jerry Garcia, John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, and T-bone Walker. In the early '70's, he made a rock album that included the song "Jet Airliner", later covered and made into a hit by the Steve Miller Band. The important thing about Pena, as far as this film is concerned, however, is that he is a self-taught master of Tuvan-style throat-singing.
Throat-singing is a style of singing where one sings two or three notes at once, with some very interesting harmonic effects. As pointed out in examples in the film, the sounds are similar to nose-flutes, Jews-harps, Australian dijeridoos, and leaf-blowers.
Pena's adventures begin when he goes to a concert in Frisco given by Kongar-al Ondar, who is described as the Elvis of Tuvan throat-singing. Ondar hears Pena sing and invites him to go to Tuva to compete in a throat-singing contest. A somewhat bizarre organization known as the Friends of Tuva arranges the trip for Pena, his trombone-playing friend, a recording engineer, and an eccentric elderly DJ. They also arrange to have the trip filmed by Roko Belic and his brother.
The film is mostly about how Pena wins the hearts of Tuvans by singing traditional Tuvan folk songs, and then combining the singing style with the Delta blues he specializes in. It also concentrates on the friendship that is forged between Pena and Ondar.
While this is not exactly top-of-the-line stuff (Hi-Def video just ain't no substitute for film), and we never really learn about anyone besides Pena and the late physicist Richard Feynman, who co-founded the Friends of Tuva, this is truly a fascinating movie, so I gave it an 8.
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