How the Leo Twins took over Pakistan's music industry

Haroon and Sharoon revealed their foundational training was in church music but they kept on evolving

Haroon Shuaib  May 20, 2020

ISLAMABAD: In this time of social distancing, voluntary self-isolation, and quarantine, music most definitely is what the doctor orders and if you have not yet discovered the magic of Leo Twins, they come highly recommended.

Haroon and Sharoon identical twins from Rawalpindi and their limitless energy makes “Leo Twins”. Born in 1993, they started small but had been seeing their elder brother Asher Sidhu, a complete artist as they explain, since childhood. Asher plays tabla at the Church, paints, and curates art at his own art gallery.

His influence on his younger siblings is evident in the reverence with which they acknowledge his influence. It was sheer luck that at the age of 16, while they were out to get their mobile phones fixed, they landed in a guitar shop.

“We instead decided to sell our phones and with a paltry sum of 1600 made a down payment and bought a guitar on instalments. Our next stop was at Ustad Idrees Ahmed Khan’s, who seeing our enthusiasm, agreed to teach us music,” they recall with fondness.

“In hindsight, it was important for us to go through that initial grind of learning from an Ustad. We think there is a lot of value in the Ustadi-Shagirdi tradition of our music. Every artist must go through this struggle. As our Ustad taught us, the skill can be learnt but the soul only comes through this rigorous training.”

It was perhaps this humility that helped the boys learn fast. Haroon who was already playing a little bit of tabla which they consider mother of all instruments, at the local Church, went on to learn guitar, rubab, piano, Cajon, ukulele, mandolin, darbuka, and other percussion instruments. He also mastered his command on tabla. Sharoon, the older of the two, plays the violin and cello.

“Violin is a very demanding but a complete instrument. It requires a lot of skill but has unmatched versatility. With our natural chemistry it is very easy for us to understand and complement each other. We love to constantly jam and this is what brought together the idea of quarantine sessions,” beams Haroon.

In 2016, they did their first amateur video of instrumental performance and put it on YouTube. Xulfi from Call, who was producing Nescafe Basement Season 3 back came across this video and was super impressed by the skillset. The rest, as they say, is history as they became a permanent part of the musical ensemble and got the opportunity to play various instruments for some of the most ingenious numbers.

Nescafe Basement was a dream come true for the duo. After season 3, there was season 4 and 5 which gave them the kind of platform they had secretly wished for. After season 3, Leo Twins were already working with Atif Aslam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and other big names of the industry.

“Besides church music, we had been listening to a lot of subcontinental classical and Qawwali music. From the west, we listened to classics again such as Mozart and Beethoven. It was much later when we became associated with Nescafe that we discovered Pakistan’s pop scene and international contemporary genres such as pop and rock,” Sharoon recalls.

“Our inspiration comes from maestros such as Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Yanni, and the famous German violinist David Garett. We also have a very strong connection with our own roots and our recreation of the golden melodies such as Saason ki mala by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Lambi Judai of Reshma Jee, and Ay watan kay sajeelay jawano of Madam Noor Jahan were widely appreciated.”

What’s most appreciable about Leo Twins body of work is that their covers of Ed Shereen numbers, Game of Thrones OST, Havana, and Michael Jackson’s They don’t care about us are as good as any local rendition.

After successful collaborations with Call the band, Meesha Shafi, Momina Mustehsan, Atif Aslam, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and having been part of Pakistan Super League team Peshawar Zalmi's team anthem, Hum Zalmi, their aim is to now work with international artists.

“We have been fortunate to have already performed at Mohatta Palace and Wembley Arena in London with Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. In the future, we would like to do more world music and collaborate with international artists. Till this COVID-19 pandemic is over we will continue to entertain our listeners with these Quarantine Jamming Sessions,” Sharoon concludes.

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