In the day and age of instant discovery of new music on the Internet, it’s easy to assume that all emerging artists utilize YouTube, Spotify, and social media as their primary ticket to stardom. It’s 2016, throngs of artists have launched their careers online over the past quarter of a century. But what about those incredible gems that lie just beyond the fray, living under the radar lives on America’s backroads? Akin to the pre-Internet days, these artists must be found in order to be heard. This is where Jim Pugh, founder of the non-profit record label Little Village Foundation, takes center stage. Pugh and the Little Village Foundation bring otherwise unheard of musicians from their local communities out to the world.
Jim Pugh’s career as a keyboardist for the likes of B.B. King, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Robert Cray and Van Morrison, has garnered him multiple GRAMMY® Awards, and platinum and gold records. No longer a full-time sideman, Pugh has a new dedication satiating his musical muse: tell the untold stories of American roots musicians who’ve gone undetected and might never be revealed to the masses.
Based out of Santa Barbara County, Pugh scours all corners of the country searching for obscure artists to sign and record. Little Village Foundation’s latest round of four full-length studio recordings are set for release on July 15, 2016. Pugh focuses on artists he’s discovered throughout his travels to the Central Valley of California and side streets of the San Francisco Bay Area. What Pugh has uncovered is staggering to the mind, and audible gold to the ears.
A Silicon Valley software engineer turned professional blues harmonica phenomenon, Aki Kumar was born and raised in Mumbai, India. Now a resident of San Jose, CA, Kumar introduces an unprecedented mashup of Bollywood classics with deep Chicago style blues on Aki Goes To Bollywood. Aireene Espiritu, a Filipino-American singer-songwriter based out of Oakland, CA, pays tribute to fellow Filipino-American Sugar Pie DeSanto on Back Where I Belong.
A retired roofer and migrant farmworker originally from Greenwood, MS (who now resides in Redwood City, CA), John “Blues” Boyd releases his debut album, The Real Deal, at the prime age of 71. Mariachi Mestizo hails from Delano, CA — a Central Valley town perhaps best known as a focal point of activism on the part of César Chávez and his United Farm Workers. Comprised of elementary, middle and high school students (ranging in ages 9 – 18), Mariachi Mestizo recorded their debut release, Te Doy La Libertad, for Little Village at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, CA.
For more detailed information regarding these artists, please see their bios below.
Little Village Foundation Summer 2016 Artist Roster: Aki Kumar, Aireene Espiritu, John “Blues” Boyd, Mariachi Mestizo
Aki Kumar is no stranger to living double lives. The now professional harmonica player grew up in Mumbai, India and studied traditional Hindustani music at the age of 9 years old. When he was 18 (circ. 1998), he moved to California to attend San Jose State University and began hanging out at underground blues clubs. After college, he worked as a software engineer at a major Silicon Valley tech company for 11 years, and by night, he performed Chicago blues in local venues. 2016 marks a milestone for Aki as he’s spent half his life in India and half in the United States. His debt album for Little Village, Aki Goes To Bollywood, is a true representation of his musical DNA — classic 1950s/60s Bollywood and down-home American blues.
Though some instrumental albums and DJs have attempted to rearrange Bollywood music mixed with other genres, never before has an Indian blues musician so triumphantly recorded songs by the film industry’s biggest stars such as Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, R.D. Burman, and S.D. Burman. Aki Kumar notes, “I realized that many of the Indian songs I loved had, in fact, been influenced by American blues music and I wanted to bring them together.” Aki Goes To Bollywood blends sitars with Delta blues jams, Hindi vocals with ferocious harp playing. Aki has single-handedly created “Mumbai Meets Muddy,” his own blues movement. For the album’s cover, Aki emulates his childhood hero and mega-star, Amitabh Bachchan.
Jim Pugh first met Aireene Espiritu while she performed solo with just a ukulele at Folk Alliance Region West (Oakland, CA: 2014). Out of 200 acts, Pugh left the conference with a bug in his ear about Aireene. Over the next year he developed an idea way out of left field: Aireene paying tribute to fellow Filipino-American Sugar Pie DeSanto. At 80 and still performing, DeSanto signed to Chess Records in Chicago in their heyday of the ’60s and built a reputation as a powerhouse performer touring with The Johnny Otis Revue and The James Brown Revue (DeSanto’s biggest hits included “I Want To Know,” “Soulful Dress”).
Aireene’s original music is reminiscent of front porch storytelling, of ghosts and the living, times of laughter and tears. When Pugh approached her about the tribute to DeSanto, Aireene was thrilled as she takes much inspiration from gospel and R&B music. Born in the Philippines, Aireene moved to the United States at the age of 10 (circ. 1980). Now living in California for more than three decades, she calls Oakland, CA home although she’s a resolute traveler living out of her Toyota Prius.
Aireene says, “Music can truly translate to what a person is experiencing in life, and the fact that I live out of my car definitely helps me bring together a more complete story of who I am and where my music is. The Bay Area is so expensive, but I’m still out there producing great songs. Music has become a survival thing for me, I keep booking gigs in LA, Vegas, Portland, the Central Coast, Washington, and the Bay Area. It keeps me moving and my music alive!”
Her new album Back Where I Belong features all covers, including seven Sugar Pie DeSanto songs, three Filipino folk songs, two traditional American songs (“Down By The Riverside,” “No More”), and one blues standard, “Ask Me About Nothin’ But The Blues.”
John “Blues” Boyd
John “Blues” Boyd earned his middle name the hard way. John’s music and the man himself are throwbacks to a more difficult, but also a more honest and straightforward era. Cousins to bluesman Eddie Boyd and former Boston Red Sox pitcher Dennis Ray “Oil Can” Boyd, John was born in Greenwood, MS, in 1945 and began working the delta cotton fields at seven years of age. While working in the fields, people would hear John sing and tell him he should start a band. While he’d always had a great passion for singing, he hadn’t pursued it because, “I was out there working, trying to just afford a pair of shoes. Where am I gonna get a band? I struggled for a while. After I moved to Redwood City, I didn’t think anyone around here could play the low down blues until I met Kid Andersen and Jim Pugh.”
A hot tar roofer since moving to the Bay Area in the 1980s, Boyd took to caring for his ailing wife Dona Mae Moore from 2004 to 2014. During this time, he met Norwegian blues guitar wizard Kid Andersen who’s the owner of Greaseland Studios in San Jose, CA. When John’s beloved wife of 49 years Dona Mae, passed in 2014, he naturally turned to the refuge of the blues for solace. Anderson and Pugh recorded John’s debut album, The Real Deal, at Greaseland featuring all original songs written by John at the age of 71.
Mariachi Mestizo is a youth mariachi band led by ex-Mariachi Los Camperos member Juan Morales. Based in the Central Valley town of Delano, California, Mariachi Mestizo consists of 16 boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 18, all of whom sing and play their hearts out on their debut album, Te Doy La Libertad. Recorded at the famed Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, Te Doy La Libertad was recorded live featuring all first or second takes of the songs with no overdubs. The raw energy and organic, vintage sound of the studio is very much alive on the recording.
In 2015, this latest generation of Mariachi Mestizo took first place at the San Juan Capistrano Mission “Battle of the Mariachis.” Mariachi Mestizo was selected as the first youth mariachi group to open for the prestigious annual Mariachi USA concert at The Hollywood Bowl last summer, and were featured artists at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.