Reviews for Kumar's 2018 album, Hindi Man Blues
"Kumar is on the cutting-edge of blues today. He is highly respectful of blues traditions, yet understands how to interpret it in innovative ways. I think we will look back in 20 years and realize we witnessed something very special in the evolution of the blues."
Michael Kinsman, San Diego Blues Festival, Jan 2019
"Aki Kumar has succeeded with this album, that after each song you are curious about what you can expect in the next song. An intriguing album with an excellent mix of blues and Indian music."
BluesMagazine.nl (Dutch language), September 2018
"Indeed, Kumar stands out in ways that challenge the standards reviewers typically rely on when assessing a new harp record. Indeed, describing this breathtaking release as unique or innovative, while accurate, fails to capture the scope of Kumar’s vision."
Living Blues Magazine, August 2018
"★★★★ Charlie Musselwhite-endorsed Aki Kumar proves to traditionalists that singing in Hindi can co-exist with Chicago blues conventions. This Indian-American’s intense sense of musical discovery as an able vocalist and harmonica player drives worry-and-regret makeovers of Bollywood film songs and adds bounce to a reggae version of “Watermelon Man.” Boosted by top West Coast blues personnel and cross-cultural extras, Kumar proves that the integrity of his music marks the difference between novelty and substance. The best of his three albums. "
Downbeat Magazine, July 2018
"Aki Kumar is at it again playing music in a genre that he alone inhabits. This Indian bornand San Jose, California, based blues man is doing something that has never been done or likely even considered. In 2016, Kumar released an album called Aki Goes To Bollywood. Here in 2018, with Hindi Man Blues, he continues this wild exploration into the music of his homeland and combining those thematic musical elements with the blues music of his adopted country. On Hindi Man Blues, Kumar again offers up a disc that has something likely to offend everyone. It is why I like it so much. Kumar scores big points with me by writing and performing an original tune entitled All Bark and No Bite about Trump. While this record may not be for everyone, it is for those with an open mind and adventurous spirit. Either way, Aki Kumar should be applauded for choosing his own path which speaks to the height of creativity and fearlessness."
David Mac. Blues Junction Productions, July 2018
"...the new album leaps off that bridge into the unknown, and I love the heck out of it"
Jim Washburn, OCWeekly, July 2018
Reviews for Kumar's 2016 album Aki Goes To Bollywood
""Really really really hot stuff... Anything you want to call it, it is a barn burner."
"... has combined the two disparate genres in an unforced musical fusion never before attempted and has pulled it off with breathtaking aplomb.."
"...an unexpected and unexpectedly wonderful meeting of American blues and Indian pop...the songs find a great balance between the styles, the best featuring stinging guitar lines, roiling piano, hard-four beats and Kumar’s blowzy harp fitting perfectly with the buoyant froth of some classic Bollywood production numbers...It’s Chicago deep-dish pizza — masala style."
"This isn’t so much east meets west. It is east smashes into west (or visa versa) on a muddy road somewhere in Mississippi or Calcutta...Aki Goes to Bollywood represents the height of creativity and fearlessness. Aki Kumar should be commended for embracing his past and blending that with his adopted true love, the blues."
"Kumar sings in Hindi, which adds some Vindaloo heat"
"What I hear is an original, dynamic, and completely convincing fusion of two radically different things — commercial Indian film-score music and American blues, the latter ranging from Deep South Mississippi tonalities to 50's Los Angeles Central Avenue R&B. My ears, attuned to 12-bar structures, can recognize that some of the songs spend most of the time moving through Bollywood changes, then dip down and stabilize into the blues' harmonica home ground for a harmonica or guitar solo before surfacing once again in Mumbai. That's one way of weaving two traditions together and giving both traditions a kick in the pants."
Italian Review - "Eppure esistono svariati motivi per cui conviene mettere da parte le proprie resistenze: in primis c’è un lavoro di arrangiamento estremamente curato che rende ognuna delle 14 tracce un episodio unico, sorprendente; in secondo luogo è si tratta di un disco suonato magistralmente (accanto ad Aki – dotato di gran voce – figurano personaggi come Jim Pugh al pianoforte e soprattutto il chitarrista “Kid” Andersen, la cui mente criminale fornisce un contributo fondante all’equilibrio generale dell’album)"
Reviews for Kumar's debut album Don't Hold Back
"His treatment of Charles Brown’s “Driftin’ Blues” was sublime and leaves one contemplating just how good this ‘cat’ will get. Check out his newest project “Don’t Hold Back” recorded at Kid Anderson’s Greaseland Studio. It’s chick-full of tasty covers and several vintage-infused originals; the CD hasn’t been out of my rotation for the last month."
"(Kumar) is a powerful, stylish vocalist who delivers his lyrics without a hint of accent, and his attack would be well received in the smoky bars of Chicago’s West Side, where the music originated … Definitely one of the best new artist new releases of 2014. It’s a little late for Christmas, but pick up a copy of “Don’t Hold Back” today. You deserve it."
"Aki is not a good – but a master harmonica player whose energetic style is situated where Little Walter and West Coast blues cross their lines."
"A superb harmonica player with a muscular vocal style... blessed with a mesmerizing command of vintage Chicago blues .... one of the finest Chi-Town blues albums it has been my pleasure to hear in a while ....Kumar is a real talent and if you love Chicago blues then this is a set you can't ignore."
"On Mumbai Express, a lively track, Kumar shows how versatile he’s on the harmonica .. Don’t Hold Backdeserves a place in any blues fan’s collection."
"Just a fine, fine effort, fully realized, and blues-wailing. Run, don't walk to get it." - CLICK HERE for the full review.
"...old school blues at its finest by way of India. And the lad has soul to spare."
"Born in Mumbai and long based in San Jose, California, 34-year-old harmonica blower Akarsha “Aki” Kumar made his initial mark with Tip of the Top, a sadly short-lived trio in which he shared lead vocals with guitarist Jon Lawton. Now he’s out on his own with a killer CD of mostly Chicago-style blues on which he surrounds himself with some of the strongest blues players in Northern California. They include guitarists Lawton, Kid Andersen (who co-produced the sessions with Kumar), Johnny “Cat” Soubrand, and Rusty Zinn, pianist Bob Welsh, bassist Vance Ehlers, drummer June Core, and tenor saxophonist Frank Ramos.
Kumar is a strong, versatile harmonica player who draws on styles from Little Walter’s to Jimmy Reed’s, and when he sings, in robust low-tenor tones, he nails every line with near-perfect enunciation. His choice of vintage tunes to cover is inspired, avoiding the common in favor of less-often-heard material such as Walter’s Blue Baby, Reed’s She Don’t Want Me No More, Snooky Pryor’s Judgement Day, Hank Ballard’s Hoochie Coochie Coo, Billy “The Kid” Emerson’s I’ll Get You, Too, Memphis Slim’s Wish Me Well, and the Slim Harpo instrumental Buzzin’. The most familiar song in the set, Drifting Blues, which has almost always been rendered as a slow blues since Charles Brown recorded it that way with Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers in 1945, is instead delivered up-tempo by Kumar and company in a Rollin’ and Tumblin’ manner.
Three original Kumar tunes—Don’t Hold Back, Let Me Get Closer, and the Mystery Train–derived Mumbai Express—stand up well alongside the older material. He closes out the 13-track set with a Bollywood pop song titled Ajeeb Daastaan Hai Yeh (A Strange Story). Unfortunately, only those fluent in Hindi (or wishing to Google the English translation) will understand the story, but it sure is an interesting way to end such a terrific album."
"One of my favorite tracks on the release, Drifting Blues, has an almost John lee Hooker like drive to it. With essentially no bridge, this track is a full blown train rolling down the tracks.... Very nice!"
"Being a big fan of West Coast of blues I can really appreciate this kind of music played right, especially when harmonica is involved. Your album brings all those elements crucial for a good West Coast blues records. The music swings and rolls, with a strong blues foundation and some amazing playing. Great singing and harp playing shine throughout, but I am also impressed with the number and the quality of guests that grace the LP. Rusty Zinn (who these days only plays reggae, how did you managed to get him to play the blues???), Kid Andersen, Johnny Soubrand – fantastic musicians that round out a beautiful record. A prove that the blues is strong all over the world. Congratulations! It will be my pleasure to play this music on the air."
More Testimonials & Reviews
"Aki really deserves to be twice as big as a Beatle or two, what with all the percolating spirit, verve, soul, humor and general delightfulness he puts in his music." - Jim Washburn, OCWeekly.com
"Thank you for creating an even more alienating subgenre of an already esoteric art form." - Cadillac Zack
"You and the band brought a fantastic show to our stage. Long time subscribers to the series came up to me and said " I didn't want to like it and ended up loving it" . Many of these folks would never consider a Blues or Bollywood show and you brought them around to loving both." - Bill Rupel, Sunnyvale Theater, CA
"Aki is a star in his own right. He’s a fantastic performer/entertainer with a flair for style. He’s also a consummate professional, which I have no doubt contributes greatly to his current success." - Roberto Hernandez, The UnStarving Musician's Project
"Without a doubt one of the best concerts out of the close to 80 we have had in the 6 years we have been doing this." - Jo Even Tomren, Ørskog Bluesfest, Norway
“The one who really stood out to me was the up and comer, Aki Kumar, from the San Francisco Bay Area. He had that presentation of honor, amazement, and gratitude to play at this event. His passion combined with talent and enthusiasm was a magnet for the packed crowd. My goodness, can he sing too! His album, “Don’t Hold Back” is a perfect description for Aki who gives all of himself as he performs.” - Lee Ann Flynn, Big City Rhythm & Blues Magazine, June 2015
"Aki Kumar is at the top of my very short list of musicians that give me hope for the future of the blues..." - Blues harp legend Rick Estrin
"Aki is one of my personal favorite harp players, and also among the best of the younger generation of blues-harpists on today's scene." - Chicago Blues guitar great, Steve Freund
"Aki is the toughest young harpman to come out of the scene in recent years... Kumar's mastery of the instrument in such a short amount of time is astounding!" - West Coast Blues Harp Master Mark Hummel
"Aki has the personal charisma to befriend these people. He's very smart, and is truly devoted to the blues. If you watch him work, he's a big personality, without having a big ego. He creates a very 'family' atmosphere; it's almost like he's everyone's big brother up there." - Feelin' the blues every Thursday night at the Grand Dell Saloon in Campbell
"Things get off to a rollicking start with Lawton's “I Ain't Worried” with Kumar blowing some wicked harp licks. They dig deep into Johnny Littlejohn's tale of a cheating woman on “She's Too Much” before switching to a hard shuffle on “My Baby's Gone (And I Feel Good)”, with Kumar once again supplying the musical fireworks. The two instrumentals are standout tracks. Using Little Walter's “Rocker”, Kumar plays his heart out, unleashing a series of dazzling runs that honor the legacy of the world's greatest blues harp player. " -Blues Blast Magazine review of From Memphis To Greaseland
"...excellent harp work by Aki lets us know they are here to play. Nice harp work is an essential element here with Mr. Kumar displaying a proven ability to play in various styles and tones. Not just a draw & blower, he especially does justice to the Little Walter cover 'Rocker'. Definitely one to get the feet moving. He provides added depth fronting the vocals chops on Sonny Boy Williamson's 'Fattening Frogs for Snakes'." - Blues411.com review of From Memphis To Greaseland
Complete with full fat tone and authentic delivery, Aki then launched into Little Walter’s Juke on diatonic harp, also featured on the CD. A brave move for any harp player, but for Aki the chance to demonstrate how thoroughly he has studied his subject. - Harp Surgery review of Depot Street Blues
Kumar steals the show with his inventive harp fills... takes the spotlight on the Little Walter tunes. His version of “Juke” sticks pretty close to the original until Kumar cuts loose about half way through, unleashing his own inventive lines. The band manages to breathe life into “Mellow Down Easy” with a strong vocal from Kumar ... The next track,“Temperature”, features more of Kumar’s fat harp tone and dynamic playing. Kumar turns in an emotional vocal on “Love Her With a Feeling”, the group maintaining asteady groove behind him. The disc closes with an instrumental, “Evan’s Shuffle”, that finds Kumar steadily building his solo over Lawton’s guitar. When the rhythm section kicks in, Kumar doesn’t miss a beat, playing with more power and just as much style. - Blues Blast Magazine review of Depot Street Blues