Singing the Blues

Aki Kumar brings Delta blues harmonica with Hindi vocals and sitars to Alameda.


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As a child in India, Aki Kumar grew up on the classic Bollywood productions of the 1950s and ’60s: big colorful stage extravaganzas with bombastic, larger-than-life scores that blended traditional village folk music with modern Indian funk and pop. But many of Kumar’s favorite film songs drew from a surprising source, a music invented half a world away in the swampy dive bars and juke joints of the American south: Delta blues.

Kumar came to the United States to work as a software engineer, but he couldn’t get the lonesome croons and wails of the blues sound out of his head. He needed to play, so he picked up the most-bluesy instrument of all: the harmonica. Kumar began a second career as a professional harmonica man by skulking the Bay Area’s blues clubs, taking the stage to wow audiences with his heartfelt soul.

With his education in traditional Hindustani music but a deep love of the Delta sound, Kumar’s music unites East and West, combining two very different sound cultures into a uniquely global mix. His debut album Aki Goes to Bollywood includes the gut-wrenching blues jams like you’ve never heard them before — performed with Hindi vocals and sitars. Saturday, March 24, 8 p.m., $20 in advance, $25 on day of show. Rhythmix Cultural Works, 2513 Blanding Ave., Alameda, Rhythmix.org

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