Alumni Profile

Adrian Belic '93

Throat-Singing in the Rain Like many an aspiring filmmaker, Adrian Belic ’93 and his younger brother Roko produced their first movie in third grade using a friend’s dad’s super-8 camera.

But unlike most star-struck schoolboys, 20 years later the Belic brothers are reaping praises and prizes at film festivals around the world for their first feature-length documentary.
Genghis Blues melds the brothers’ passion for compelling storytelling with seemingly disparate elements — blind Bay Area blues singer Paul Pena; the Autonomous Republic of Tuva (yes, there really is such a place; it lies between Siberia and Mongolia); and the little-known Tuvan tradition of throat-singing.
Throat-singing is a technique by which vocalists simultaneously produce two, sometimes even three, distinct tones — called overtones. It involves manipulating the acoustical phenomenon of harmonics, a natural product of musical instruments, speech and singing. In Western music, vocal harmonics are commonly heard in Gregorian chanting.

The Belic brothers’ film traces the adventures of Pena and Tuvan throat-singing master Kongar-ol Ondar. Pena discovered Tuvan throat-singing on a shortwave Radio Moscow program 15 years ago. Instantly gripped, he worked for the next decade to produce similar overtones with his own voice. In 1993, Pena met Ondar and other touring Tuvan throat-singers in San Francisco. After hearing the blues singer’s impromptu audition, the Tuvan masters invited him to travel back to their homeland. Pena’s self-taught throat-singing was so well received in Tuva that he became the country’s 1995 champion in a particular style called kargyraa.
Genghis Blues is a film about exploration and friendship,” says Adrian Belic. “It’s the story of a man whose struggle in life is not defined by conformity and rules but by an unquenchable curiosity and love of music.”
But when the Belic brothers set out to make a documentary about this story of cross-cultural friendship, they got some funny looks. “People thought we were complete lunatics,” Adrian Belic recalls. “Studios and potential backers said, ‘You want to make a movie about a blues singer we’ve never heard of and a country and a type of singing that we don’t think even exist?’ Our film ended up being self-financed with our friends at Visa and MasterCard.”
Creatively, the investment has paid off. Genghis Blues won the Audience Award for favorite documentary at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, and has won praise and awards at such venues as the Rotterdam International Film Festival and the Berlin Film Market. The Belics recently obtained an international distributor for the film and are searching for a U.S. distributor. For information on future screenings, see the film’s Web site
www.GenghisBlues.com.
How do the brothers feel about the success of their film fusing blues and Tuvan throat-singing? “We’re totally jazzed,” says the genre-mixing documentarian.


 

 

 


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