After posting "a thousand crappy YouTube videos" over the years, Aki Kumar — aka "The Only Bombay Blues Man" — has gone for the real thing with "Dilruba," a track from his forthcoming sophomore album Hindi Man Blues.
The clip shows the India-born Kumar and his band performing the song, in Hindi with subtitles, while he fantasizes about a potential relationship with a young woman he spots in the audience. "This is my first full-production music video, and oh man, it was great," says Kumar, who came to the U.S. to study stware engineering and worked at Adobe before devoting himself full time to the blues. "It helps me to exercise another part my creativity and put together a story and visualize it and bring it to life." His friend Nandini Bharadhwaj, who plays the love interest in the clip, also helped Kumar choreograph the video.
"I wanted to show f some retro Bollywood dance moves from the '80s, which I thought were corny back then," says Kumar, who co-directed the video with Jeremiah Hutchens. "I had a great time with it." The ending is left ambivalent in the video — does he get the girl in the end? "We'll never know," he says with a laugh. "It's totally all in my head."
Hindi Man Blues, which features liner notes by Kumar's friend and mentor Charlie Musselwhite, takes the Bollywood meets Chicago-style blues blend his debut, Aki Goes To Bollywood, and puts it "on steroids," according to Kumar. "I wanted it to feature original work," he explains. "I definitely wanted to feature my voice, and also my voice in a political sense and start using my music to express that. Up until four or even five years ago I was OK with just playing music and being a blues musician and writing and singing blues songs. That kind changed the last few years; It feels like it's really important now to represent myself — who I am now, where I come from. That's the statement I wanted to make."
Due out Aug. 1 Jim Pugh's non-prit Little Village Foundation, Hindi Man Blues also gives Kumar a chance to fortify his standing in his chosen musical community — and perhaps take another step forward from just being the Bollywood blues guy and accepted more as a another voice in the genre.
"I know it's strange to see an Indian guy trying to play the genre," Kumar says. "I've even had somebody come up and say, 'Oh, man, what are you doing? You should be in a call center.' That's innocent enough, but it's really what they're thinking. They don't expect to see me up there, so that's one the reasons I had to do Hindi Man Blues. I've never had the opportunity to really travel and play this music, so I'm hoping I can do that this time and really show people what I'm doing and that it belongs and it's valid."