As one of the artists on our 'Co-Signed by Clara Amfo' list for 2023, Leo Kalyan discusses authenticity and pushing back against being boxed in.
Melding soothing vocals and a burgeoning poetic lyricism with R&B beats, underscored by training in Indian Classical music, Leo Kalyan is a rising artist confident in their musical identity.
If you don’t know Leo, you’ll almost certainly know the tracks on which they’ve worked behind the scenes, Joel Corry’s “Head & Heart”, Mabel’s “OK (Anxiety Anthem)”, and “Rush” by Raveena to name a few. Ivor Novello and BRIT-nominated for their songwriting, after a two-year hiatus Leo’s back and ready for the limelight.
Dropping “Diamond Life” with longtime collaborator MNEK this month, the ode to self-love and gratitude is Leo at their best. It’s a perfect example of the bilingual sound that’s gained the artist global recognition across TikTok, switching between English and Hindi.
This year saw some big fashion moments for Leo, at one point in 2022 they were even the most googled person in India, Kalyan’s style applauded by Vogue as “a takedown of the central conceit of heteronormative fashion”. Whatever’s coming next from Leo, we’re sure it’ll be exciting.
Why do you back yourself for 2023?
I back myself for 2023 because I have a pretty unique perspective on music. I’m Asian, I’m queer, I sing in two languages, English and Hindi, and I don’t think there’s a lot of people in the UK doing that currently.
What has been your biggest artistic hurdle in your journey so far?
The biggest artistic hurdle in my journey so far has probably been presenting my queerness and my South Asian-ness to the world in an authentic way. It’s often made people box me into different categories and breaking from them has been the biggest hurdle.
What has been your biggest triumph in your journey so far?
The biggest triumph I’ve had is breaking out of that box and redefining what it looks like to be South Asian, to be brown, to be queer and to be British. I’ve had a lot of triumphs this year, going viral multiple times and being the most searched person in India. Various artistic dreams have come true, so all that together has made 2022 a pretty triumphant year.
How would you define ‘making it’?
I think making it is when you see people coming up to you and appreciating your perspective on the world. This started to happen this year and it’s really exciting.
What makes your fanbase unique?
Someone in the comments on TikTok described my fanbase as the ‘shes, theys, and gays’ and I think that perfectly sums it up and is exactly the fanbase I always wanted.
Who would you put on our ‘Co-Signed by Clara Amfo’ list if you weren’t on it?
If I wasn’t on this list, I would choose an artist called Lana Lubany who’s Arabic and American. I think she’s amazing because, like me, she’s bilingual and has a fresh perspective on music that’s exciting culturally. The other artist I could choose is Iniko, who’s a non-binary artist from America and is exciting for similar reasons.