Aki Kumar, mostly known for his take on Chicago blues, journeys back to his Indian roots on this appropriately titled release, “Aki Goes To Bollywood.” A Mumbai native transplanted to the Silicon Valley in search of tech work, Aki truly found his calling delving into his love for blues music and making a name as a top notch harmonica player and singer. This release however seems like the perfect amalgam of his blues stylings combined with a more traditional Bollywood sound creating a quite unique listening experience.
Almost all the songs are sung in Hindi, with the exception of two, the Howlin’ Wolf sounding “My Home Is A Prison”, a minimal acoustic dirge heavy on the reverb and the album closer, “Back To Bombay”. The opening track “Badan Pe Sitaare” really sets the tone for Aki’s vision melding his heritage with his blues passions by combining an a Bloomfield-esque guitar burn with the upbeat bounce needed to pull off this revisiting of a Muhammad Rafi classic. Potentially turning off the purist blues crowd as well as the Bollywood classicists is a gutsy move. And it works.
There is a lot of variety within “Aki Goes To Bollywood” however. It’s not just only a complete blues revamp of old Bollywood jams. The jump-swing, call and response number “Eena Meena Deeka”, the funky as hell “Jaan E Jaan” with its soaring chorus and nimble yet propelling bass line are two highlights. Aki’s secret weapon on this record is the crack and whip-tight band behind him. Guitarist Kid Andersen (who also co-produced the album) is a versatile badass able to vamp chords with ease, yet peel off a piercing solo that strikes the ear like an aural snakebite. The rhythm section shifts throughout these different styles seamlessly, but with a playful energy which is needed for the meshing of musical worlds. “Kisi Ki Muskurahaton Pe” seems almost like 3 songs in one, a forlorn heartbreaker combined with a Western swing vibe with some absolute ripping guitar work from Andersen. Aki sings his ass off on this one with the right combination of bravado and vulnerability making for a truly classic track. “Aki Goes To Bollywood” is a very ambitious and innovative release and Aki and the band pull it off in a stylish yet organic way.