See our Best of Detroit 2020 winners.

Wednesday, March 15, 2000

Genghis Blues

Posted By on Wed, Mar 15, 2000 at 12:00 AM

This is one of those documentaries filmed in such a rudimentary, on-the-fly manner that it has to get by on subject matter alone. Fortunately, the subject is very appealing.

It’s the story of the blind blues singer Paul Pena, a journeyman artist who, despite having played with T-Bone Walker and B.B. King, and having penned the Steve Miller hit "Jet Airliner," has never quite achieved fame. And who, for reasons known only to him, one day became fascinated by an exotic form of vocalizing called throatsinging. This arabesque style of singing, which produces split tones that hover over a very deep, gravelly bass drone, is indigenous to the tiny republic of Tuva, on the Russian-Mongolian border.

Using recordings as learning tapes, Pena mastered this rare art and became so adept at it that a traveling group of Tuvan musicians invited him to visit their country to participate in their triennial throatsinging contest. The film follows Pena to Tuva where he wows the locals, while we soak up local color and bathe in the mutual goodwill.

If this all sounds shamelessly heartwarming, well it is – a little tale of cultural gap-bridging with a central character of undeniable if occasionally cranky charisma.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

More by Richard C. Walls

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 21, 2020

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit