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Aki Kumar is living the American dream. Kumar immigrated from Mumbai, India, to attend college and become a software engineer. He was highly successful in that pursuit, landing a well-paying job with a cutting-edge Silicon Valley high-tech firm. His future seemed very bright. Then, he decided he’d had enough and dedicated his life to becoming a blues harmonica player.
His decision to combine blues with Indian pop music has resulted in its own genre, Bollywood Blues, that holds a strange allure to blues fans and Indians alike.
Only a few years ago, Kumar was gigging regularly near his San Jose home, earnestly trying to play traditional Chicago-style blues. “I wanted to make a statement that I was a traditional bluesman, so I wanted to be playing blues and have nobody even wonder where I came from,” he says.
He made strong headway, but his decision to merge East and West is what has distinguished him. Encouraged by Jim Pugh’s Little Village Foundation and its record label, Kumar introduced elements of Indian music into his work, creating a multi-cultural mash-up that is instantly unique yet never loses touch with its blues base.
His 2016 recording Aki Goes To Bollywood set the tone and 2018’s Hindi Man Blues took a dramatic plunge incorporating Hindi lyrics into the blues.
Suddenly, the world shook for Kumar. His music gained traction both in the United States and India, and last summer he was signed to Sony Music India, and his video “Dilruba” quickly accounted for more than 1 million views on YouTube, both legitimizing Kumar’s path and opening doors around the world.