Interview: Yuna

We talk to the Malaysian chanteuse about her life and tunes ahead of her upcoming show here

Photo: Autumn De Wilde

Kedah-born but internationally celebrated, Yuna has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the pop universe. With an adroit melding of neo-soul, folk and R&B, she has given the world a sound that is exquisitely melodic and, dare we say, beautiful. With her new Malay album Material out in the ether, and before she's due to take the stage at the MasterCard Theatres, she brought us up to speed on the journey she's had.  

'Let’s all come back to Earth and listen to the more important things in life.'

Your last performance in Singapore was for Sing Jazz 2015. How was that experience for you?

It was a lot of fun and it was my first time performing at that venue. People were just showing up and hanging out. The mood was all very chilled-out and relaxed. There wasn’t an overwhelming crowd, so it was easy for me to interact with and get to meet everyone there.

What have you been busy with since then?

I’m in the middle of recording my new album in the United States. It’s almost done and I’m really excited! It’s slated to be out in January 2016. In the midst of all that, I’ve also been busy with new music videos, visuals for the album, and performing around town. After the show in Singapore, I’ll embark on my fall tour around the United States.

The title track from Material has inspired a lot of online buzz. How did it come about?

Material’ is meant to be a fun, lighthearted song about the tiny bit of materialism that’s in all of us. The message is meant to translate the notion that you don’t need luxury items to feel special; you already are special.

This notion is stronger now that the music of today revolves around being flashy with your possessions. You see people flaunting their Rolexes, cars and handbags and it’s to see overwhelming young people listening to these songs. Let’s all come back to Earth and listen to the more important things in life. 

Kanye West recently announced that he’s running for President in 2020. What’s your take on artists being activists at the same time?

People pay attention to artists and celebrities, so they have the opportunity to do something great with this limelight. I, for one, have no problem with Kanye running for President, because if it’s something that he truly believes in and it can lead to greater good, why not? I’m all for that. Being a musician and artist can feel superficial at times – you talk about yourself everyday and pose for photos for the magazines and newspapers, and it can be very tiring for your well-being.

What was it like working with Pharrell on ‘Live Your Life’?

It was a lot of fun! I had only been making music for four years when we collaborated, and for me that came quick. Neither of us expected the song to be a hit, and I personally just wanted the opportunity to work with him. It was a great experience because he’s such a sweet guy and he taught me to be open to new music and ideas, and to freely embrace the person that I am. I’m very grateful for the time I got to work with him.

Nocturnal has many fans. Do you feel a difference in your Malay and English albums?

Definitely. While the music style is very consistent, what I sing about isn’t always the same.

My Malaysian fans enjoy a different aspect of me as compared to my non-Malay speaking ones. I try to connect with both sides and make them all feel appreciated. For example, ‘Material’ would be great for the Malay album, but not necessarily for the English one I’m currently working on, simply because of the different perspectives the two audiences have. Ultimately, I’m still the same girl regardless.

You are often referred to as a style icon for young Muslim women. How does that make you feel?

I enjoy fashion and taking the effort to present myself well, and I’m glad that a lot of people refer to me as a ‘Hijabster’. I’m not the greatest fan of the term but I think girls everywhere should be confident in their own skin and be inspired to look and feel good inside and out. If being deemed a fashion icon for Muslim girls is one way I can do that, then, great!

Lastly, what are you looking forward to the most about playing in Singapore again?

I’m very excited to perform in Singapore again. It’ll be a different set-up from my earlier show and I’m actually kind of nervous about who will turn up! Singapore has always been there for me, since the days I performed small gigs in cafés starting out, and I consider it home now.