Kongar-ol Ondar

Genghis Blues [Original Soundtrack]

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The soundtrack to one of the most unlikely tales (and a film nominated for a 1999 Academy Award), Genghis Blues is the story of blind American bluesman Paul Pena (who wrote Steve Miller's "Jet Airliner") who heard Tuvan throat singing and finally taught himself to do it, meeting one of the greats, Kongar-ol Ondar, at a concert the throat singer performed in Pena's home of San Francisco. The fairy tale comes with Pena traveling to Tuva, the center of Asia, to compete in a throat singing contest, carrying away two prizes in the end. The music, a mix of Pena's blues, like the autobiographical "What You Talkin' About?" -- possibly the first piece to mix blues and throat singing -- or the rollicking "Gonna Move," highlight that side of his talent, while "Beyond the Horizon" harks back to his family's Cape Verdean roots. But the meat is the throat singing, whether from Ondar, the two together, or Pena himself, whose "Kargyraa Moan," really connects the dots between gutbucket blues and Asia, or "Sunezin Yry." One of the album's most moving pieces, however, is neither blues nor throat singing, but Pena taped in a hotel room singing "Center of Asia," a gorgeous song that deserves to be widely heard. "Tuva Farewell" brings it all together, Pena's excellent song, Ondar's singing, with the two on a duet, complementing each other. It's a great story, and perfectly documented on this album, with its unearthly vocals (especially on the live "Eki A'ttar") and rooted -- in both American and Asian -- mood.

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