Bringing out the blues in desi music
Akarsh Kumar lends an altogether different twist to old Bollywood tunes
The recent trend of remakes shows how easily Hindi film songs can be reshaped to cater to different types of listeners. But Akarsh Kumar, aka Aki Kumar, has played around with retro Bollywood songs for over a decade, turning many of them into blues tracks.
“Some of the greatest music composers like RD Burman and others were well into rock ’n roll, and the western style of music. They were incorporating those elements into their songs. There’s micro tonality in that music, which is there in blues as well. In the sense that a lot of notes and their sounds are achieved by bending a note on the guitar, instead of playing it staccato, so that it sounds like the note, you want to express in the song. That’s evident in Bollywood music as well,” he says. “Lyrically as well, the words are in line with blues themes. For instance, the song Sajan Re Jhooth Mat Bolo from the movie Teesri Kasam (1966), sung by Mukesh, is quite similar to the theme of the popular blues song, Mother Earth,” he adds.
But converting retro Bollywood songs into blues tracks wasn’t always on his mind. Neither was being a full-time musician. “It was only after I moved to the United States, because I wanted to have a job in the software industry, that I started listening to blues. I started taking classes for blues harmonica, and doing low-key shows... Like twice a week. Then that became five times a week, and it slowly started becoming clearer that I wanted to be a musician,” he says.
Born and raised in Mumbai, Akarsh says he was brought up in a typical Indian household where he was encouraged to pursue music as a child. But the focus shifted to academics as he grew up because his parents wanted him to “settle down” and have a comfortable life, “just like any other parent would wish for their child”. “My parents were okay with the part-time part but weren’t too sure about the full-time thing (laughs). But I think the moment they saw I was really passionate about it and people were liking the music as well, they made peace with it and are now supportive of what I do for a living,” he says, adding that his wife, Rachel Kumar too has backed his musical career.
Although it’s been 15 long years, Akarsh insists he is only starting out. He is currently on his maiden India tour. and the 39-year-old, who will perform in Delhi at various venues from December 25 to 27, is optimistic about his unique musical sensibilities getting accepted here in India. “I am positive about the kind of music I am doing, and I am really sure that after this tour, I will be coming back for more shows!” he adds.
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