'If it Feels Right, Stick to It': Pakistani-Norwegian Musician John Leo
John Leo aka Khakan Altaf Chaudhary on matters of music and more
One of the most exciting Asian names in Norway’s music circuit, John Leo aka Khakan Altaf Chaudhary is influenced by both Western and Eastern musical genres. And it’s reflected in his tracks that display glimpses of his multi-cultural background. John is a practicing physician but that hasn’t affected his passion for music in any way. His new single Always, an upbeat pop/rock track, is up for release soon (October 20, 2014) and is likely to be a worthy follow-up to his 2013 singles This Time Around & Shine, and EP called Different Ways. With strong Pakistani roots (he is fluent in Urdu and Punjabi and plans to release his first Urdu single later this year), John’s music is all about breaking barriers and forging new cultural ties. We chatted with the Pakistani-Norwegian artiste about his music, promotions and much more.
Can you tell us about your formative years? When did you move to Norway?
I was born and raised in Norway, by Pakistani parents from Gujrat. I was brought up in Drammen, which is a city close to the capital of Norway; Oslo.
How did you get initiated into music?
Though I don’t hail from a musical background, I was always interested in music. I began playing the keyboard at the age of 13 and wrote my first English song at the age of 16. I released my first track when I was 18. After that I decided to pursue a medical career, but along the way I picked up the guitar and various instruments like the dholak, drums and so on and kept on writing and playing. I realized that music is something I really wanted to do, and thus it led to the release of my EP Different Ways.
What were your earliest musical influences?
Michael Jackson, Strings, Vital Signs, Savage Garden, Prince, Bon Jovi, Junoon…. I can go on and on as there are many. I was introduced to Pakistani pop during one of trips to Karachi, and bought almost any Pakistani band release I could get my hands on! I listened to lots of different music, and still can easily enjoy different genres.
When and how did you decide to change your name?
I haven´t actually changed my birth name or even thinking about doing so. I have a stage name which is “John Leo”. When pondering over a stage name, it came about after a chat with a friend of mine while discussing various options. I liked it and decided to keep it.
How do you incorporate your Pakistani roots into your music?
At the moment I am working on Urdu language songs, so they will feature more of a contemporary Pakistani sound. I don’t necessarily incorporate my Pakistani roots into all of my songs, as I think every track has a story and its own way of being expressed musically. It really depends, and I see myself fortunate enough to choose between different musical influences and styles when creating.
What is your new single Always all about?
It´s a track I really enjoyed recording: it´s my next track out in English. It’s about eternal love - no matter what happens. Life has its ups and downs, but true love comes about in odd times - so you better seize it. Simply put, the message is: If it feels right, stick to it.
Can you tell us more about the Urdu single you have planned for later this year?
I have penned done quite a few Urdu tracks, and the first track will be out next after Always. It´s going to be a bit different sounding than the pop/rock genre so far, mixing in some EDM elements and desi beats.
Do you follow Bollywood music? Who are your favourites?
Yes I do in fact. I grew up with Bollywood music, being from a Pakistani background. I love the sound and music of A.R Rahman; his tracks always have something special, that bit of extra spice that blows my mind. Also, Sonu Nigam is a favourite, as well as Arijit these days, not to mention Atif Aslam and his excellent track record in Bollywood. Salim Suleman really mixes east and west very well and that’s pretty cool.
Do you plan to promote your music in the UAE?
Yes I do, and I’ve already been interviewed by Suno 1024, and surely there’s more to come.
What, in your opinion, should be done to promote Pakistani talent in the Western music world?
First of all the Youtube ban should be lifted as soon as possible. It’s totally counterproductive to the entertainment industry in Pakistan. Some collaborations with well-known western artists wouldn’t hurt as well, as I am sure that would highlight the talent in Pakistan and bring more awareness.