to the documentary film, Genghis
Paul Pena is now known and appreciated throughout the world for
his amazing accomplishments as a musician, particularly for having
taught himself the techniques of traditional Tuvan singing.
was born on January 26, 1950 in Hyannis, MA, the oldest child
of Jack and Virginia Pena. His grandparents came from the Cape
Verde Islands off the west coast of Africa. He was born with congenital
glaucoma. When he was five, he began school at the Perkins School
for the Blind in Watertown (a suburb of Boston). He graduated
in 1967 and then attended Clark University in Worcester, MA.
Paul at age 5 with his Dog, Dutchess
a young child, Paul soon showed his talent for music. His mother
heard him picking out melodies and chords on a baby grand piano
that had been found in the town dump and brought home, 'as a toy
that a blind child might enjoy.' He developed 'perfect pitch.'
Soon Paul was studying the piano, guitar, upright bass, violin
and 'a little trumpet.' He played and sang popular jazz and Cape
Verdian ballads with his father, a professional jazz musician,
and also sang in his school choruses. Paul appeared in a talent
show, and while in college, performed in coffeehouses in Worcester.
1969, Paul played in the Newport Folk Festival 'in the Contemporary
Composer's Workshop with such people as James Taylor, Joni Mitchell
and Kris Kristofferson.' In 1971, Paul moved to San Francisco
and recorded his first marketed record for Capital Records, which
was released in 1973.
his musical career Paul played with many of the blues greats,
John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Mississippi Fred McDowell,
'Big Bones,' and T. Bone Walker. His song, 'Jet Airliner,' recorded
by the Steve Miller Band, was a hit in the 1970s. Another album,
recorded by Bearsville Records, was never released. It is scheduled
to be released in the year 2000. To find out more about this album
this period Paul's wife, Babe, suffered kidney failure. Paul gave
up his musical career at that point in order to take care of her.
She died in 1991. He suffered greatly from her loss.
first heard a fragment of harmonic singing on a shortwave Radio
Moscow broadcast on December 29, 1984 and he was so struck by
it, he spent almost eight years trying to track down its source.
In 1991 he was finally able to locate a recording of Tuvan music
and taught himself the vocal techniques known as 'Khoomei, Sygyt,
and Kargyraa'. In addition, he learned a good bit of the Tuvan
language using English-Russian and Russian-Tuvan dictionaries
and an obsolete 'Opticon' scanning device which translates text
into sensations. In 1993, Paul attended a concert sponsored by
the Friends of Tuva organization and met Kongar-ol
Ondar after the performance. Paul gave Kongar-ol
an impromptu demonstration--and astonished him with his talent
and mastery of traditional Tuvan singing. The two men formed a
strong friendship along with their musical collaboration.
1995, Kongar-ol invited Paul to sing at the second international
Khoomei Symposium and contest, held in Tuva's capital city, Kyzyl.
Ralph Leighton and the "Friends
of Tuva" sponsored his trip. Paul took first place
in the Kargyraa division of the contest and became known as 'Earthquake'
for his amazingly deep voice. He also won the 'audience favorite'
award. Filmmakers Adrian and Roko Belic accompanied Paul to Tuva
to film the contest and his travels through Tuva, guided by Kongar-ol.
Paul and Kongar-ol have also recorded a compact disc called Genghis
Blues, which combines American blues singing, Cape Verdian
'morna,' and Tuvan Khoomei.
the release of the film, Genghis Blues, and the CD Sountrack
, Paul was named 'San Francisco's Tuvan Blues Ambassador'
and July 11, 1999 was declared 'Paul Pena Day' by the mayor. Paul
has also been diagnosed with a pancreatic illness. He is on the
long road to recovery.
Pena's promotional autobiography, sent to Roko Belic
Pena, A National Living Treasure in Cole Valley, by Fred Cirillo