Aki Kumar left his home in Mumbai with the intention of working as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. Then he discovered the blues, and his life dramatically changed. Singing and playing harmonica, he steeped himself in the music and became a fixture in blues clubs throughout Northern California, where he developed an unique, audacious blend of Chicago-style blues which then led to playing retro Bollywood songs mixed with the blues.
When he began performing, Kumar initially attempted to downplay his ethnicity and perform straight, Chicago-style blues. “I wanted to make a statement that I was a traditional blues man, so I wanted to be playing blues and have nobody even wonder where I came from.” His approach to music soon changed, and with his Little Village Foundation debut, Aki Goes to Bollywood, he began integrating elements of Indian music into his musical and visual presentation, making for a multi-cultural mash-up that sounds like no one else, yet never loses touch with its blues-inspired foundation.
That unique blend of East and West reached a new creative high on Aki’s second Little Village Foundation album, Hindi Man Blues, which boasts an ambitious cross-cultural fusion and features liner notes by veteran blues harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite. “My first album was really about my identity,” the artist states. “Now I feel it is time to be more direct about what’s happening out there in the world. The blues scene is my home, and the scene can be pretty conservative, but I want people to know where I stand. There’s a good amount of focus on Bollywood classics on the new album, and I even throw in a song about President Trump called ‘All Bark No Bite.’
In 2020, Kumar made major news with the world-wide launch of his album Dilruba on Sony Music India. Dilruba is an Indian Pop record that showcases his signature sound on a number Hindi/bilingual originals and covers. In 2021, he released an uplifting reggae-inspired single Zindagi under the Little Village Foundation label.
Kumar’s visionary stylistic mix, called Bollywood Blues, has already won him widespread attention. In addition to the local live music venues where he’s built an enthusiastic audience, he’s performed at the prestigious Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, been featured on PRI “The World,” and toured in India, Russia, Scandinavia and South America. Now, after spending more than a decade developing his sound with the help of some of the Bay Area’s finest musicians, Aki Kumar continues to take his love for the blues to new and fascinating place.