Paul Pena played blues with the greats T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, and Bonnie Raitt. In 1995, the blind bluesman became the first American ever to compete in an unusual contest of multi-harmonic "throatsinging" native to The Autonomous Republic of Tuva.
The Autonomous Republic of Tuva, wedged between Siberia and Mongolia, for centuries has been isolated from the rest of the world by jagged mountains and Soviet restrictions. Only recently have the Tuvan art form of throatsinging become known to outsiders.
Pena discovered Tuvan throatsinging on a shortwave program of Radio Moscow. For the next nine years he worked to produce similar overtones with his own voice and to incorporate throatsinging into his blues music. Unexpectedly in 1993, Pena discovered that Tuvan throatsingers were on their first concert tour of the U.S. After their performance, the deep-voiced bluesman broke into his own self-taught style of throatsinging and serenaded the musicians with Tuvan traditional songs! The throatsingers were amazed by Pena's mastery of the Tuvan art form and likened his rich voice to the sounds of tremors in the earth. They insisted that "Chershemjer" (Earthquake) travel to Tuva for the next tri-ennial throatsinging contest which would be held in 1995. Eleven years after he first heard throat singing, Paul Pena entered the National Theatre of Tuva to make history. The blind bluseman's performance was so well received, he became the 1995 throatsinging champion in the style of kargyraa. He also captured the "audience favorite" award for the week-long competition. The Tuvan people had never seen or heard anyone like him.
"More than just a record, this is also the story of the journey of Paul Pena, a fine blind American bluesman who learned Tuvan throat singing well enough to win a contest in Tuva. His solo tracks, especially his take on Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues," are the real blues deal, but this record truly takes off when Pena and Ondar duet. The blues and the eerie, often-guttural sounds of throat singing make a natural match, one that simply bewitches with the clear overtones and melodies, while the guitar and Tuvan banjo offer simple, but very plaintive, accompaniment. About the only misstep is the inclusion of the Cape Verdean "Tras d'Orizao," which sticks out like a sore thumb from everything else. Get that out of your system, and the rest is pure magic." Chris Nickson
01 - What You Talkin About 02 - Alash Hem (The Alash River) 03 - Gonna Move 04 - Kaldak Hamar (The Other Side of the Mountain) 05 - Tras D'Orizao (Beyond the Horizon) 06 - Ondarnyng Ayany (Ondar's Medley) 07 - Kargyraa Moan 08 - Eshten Charlyyry Berge (It's Hard to Lose a Friend) 09 - Kongurey (Where Has My Country Gone) 10 - Durgen Chugaa (Fast Talk) 11 - Sunezin Yry (Soul's Song) 12 - Center of Asia 13 - You Gotta Move 14 - Tuva Farewell 15 - Genghis Blues Soundbites 16 - Kaldak Hamar (Live) 17 - Eki A'ttar (Good Horses) (Live)