Indian-born, San Jose-based Aki Kumar, aka “The Only Bombay Blues Man,” 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 pop 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 attitude 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 foundation. That unique blend of East and West reaches a new creative plateau on Aki’s second Little Village Foundation album, Hindi Man Blues, which boasts Aki’s most ambitious cross-cultural fusion to date, and features liner notes by veteran blues great Charlie Musselwhite.
Special Guest: Nancy Wright
“Her tenor is, by turns, slathered with Noble “Thin Man” Watts Southern-fried grease, robust with King Curtis soulfulness and buffed to a gleam with pungent Junior Walker funk.”
– Frank-John Hadley, Downbeat
Though she’s called the Bay Area home for 30 years, Wright’s saxophone career got its start in Dayton, Ohio. She was a classically-trained bassoon player majoring in Music, when the university theater department offered her the sax player role in a production of “Cabaret.” Arriving early for rehearsal one day, she found a group of musicians in the hallway jamming on the blues. They invited her to sit in. “The coin dropped that day,” says Wright, “and I discovered the world of improvisation.” Having trained on piano, violin, concert harp, flute and brass, as well as bassoon, Wright says it was also “a question of finally getting to the right instrument.”
Rusty’s mix of classic reggae, rock steady and ska is imbued throughout with the sound of his magnificent voice, his hook laden original compositions and his thorough understanding of the place of soul in Jamaican music. Of the twelve tunes on ‘The Reggae Soul of Rusty Zinn’, (RockBeat Records) nine are written by Rusty, and show his command of the craft. Meaningful lyrics, memorable and melodic tunes set in timelessly crisp productions, all topped off by his warm and intimate voice. The kind of songs that should be on every radio stations’ playlist.
“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.’ The production and arrangements are tighter this time around. ‘Yoh Surmayi Shaam’ has lyrics that my mom wrote and sings, she turned 75 this year and it’s a really nice way to represent her musical contribution to my life. We also do a version of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Watermelon Man.’
”Kumar’s visionary stylistic mix has already won him widespread attention. In addition to the local blues 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 has toured in Russia and Scandinavia. Now, after spending more than a decade developing his sound with the help of some of the Bay Area’s finest blues players, Aki Kumar continues to take his love for the blues to new and fascinating place.
“In a musical sense, this album is the direction that my career is heading towards. I’m never going to be a straightahead blues artist. I worked really hard to establish some blues credibility, and now I’m seeing that blues fans are really accepting of my new direction. It’s a pretty interesting adventure.”