Leo Kalyan is thrown off by time zones. He was early to the interview, waiting by the phone an hour before the call, having miscalculated the time difference. He asked about daylight savings⁠—does the US have the same system as the UK? Given Kalyan’s music, this mix-up makes perfect sense. His latest single, “time can wait,” speaks to letting go of the feeling that time is running out, of ignoring the clock for a moment. Everyone might be rushing, but sometimes, it’s okay to wait around, to sit by the phone, to slow down.

Kalyan embodies this lesson. He’s someone who simultaneously has had a prolific year artistically and who understands the need for escapism. In November of last year, Kalyan released his sophomore EP, “The Edge.” Since then, he has put out multiple singles, while balancing writing and producing for other artists, including Mabel, Ryan Ashley, and Years & Years. To Kalyan, these two sets of work⁠—his own work and work for others⁠—reflect completely different sides of himself as an artist.

Photo by Nilik Khimani

“The sounds that I use in my own productions are a fixed palette that I’m picking from⁠. The colors are set⁠. Whereas, when I’m working on something for somebody else, they hand me their palette and I have to paint something from that,” he told Kajal.

His own palette includes inspiration from his Indian classical training as well as modern influences that range from George Michael to Blood Orange. His music is a reflection of what is going on in his head, and he uses his palette to build up a corresponding setting and atmosphere. Kalyan’s works range from romantic to subversive, but they all speak in some way to time and place⁠, to either escaping from or coping with a world that can feel suffocating.

“I do see escapism as a kind of resistance because at the end of the day, being queer and being brown in this world right now⁠—it literally does feel like you can’t escape hearing about your own identity being picked apart in the news or on TV or any website. If you go on social media, people are discussing some aspect of either being queer or being brown or being an immigrant or being Muslim. All of these things are facets of my identity,” Kalyan said.

Photo by Josh Lee

As a queer Muslim artist, Kalyan has taken on educating his community and the world about these facets of his identity, both through his music and through his public image. In his song “the edge,” Kalyan explores the persecution of gay men.

“I wanted other people to know about what was going on and think about it because these are things that we can very easily just click away from or just close the window on but it’s reality for other people in lots of parts of the world,” he said.

He also does this work with his own community, dispelling myths in his South Asian community that being gay is a lifestyle choice made to assimilate to whiteness. He shares his own experiences of coming out to his parents and how his situation has improved, in order to spread hope to those in the community who feel like things will never get better for them.

This journey is evident in Kalyan’s visuals. Early on, Kalyan shied away from including too much of himself in his music videos and visuals, wearing black t-shirts and jeans and even obscuring his face. Part of sharing his identity includes asking to be seen. In the video accompanying “time can wait,” the camera focuses on Kalyan’s face. His direct eye contact exudes confidence and power.

“The stage has always been a scary thing and being myself in videos has been a scary thing, so it’s very much a journey—it’s been an evolution to get to the point where I can just be. I feel like that’s a luxury that queer people, especially queer brown people don’t have,” Kalyan said.

Kalyan’s newest project, an EP to be released next month, continues to see his evolution as an artist. The EP is been full of long-simmering projects. He’s finally ready for them to be heard and for himself to be seen.

“I just want the whole world to hear them,” he said.

Header image by Simrah Farrukh