Artist of the Week: Yuna

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Born in the northern state of Malaysia called Kedah, 26-year-old Yuna started her musical venture back when she was still in law school. She was 19 when she picked up the guitar and started writing and performing her own compositions. A tech geek, Yuna was an all-around Miss DIY. In her bedroom (which has inspired the name of her very own Malaysia-based recording label Yuna Room Records), she found her strength in songwriting, home recording, web and graphic designs (Yuna draws and designed the sleeve of her self-titled limited-released demo and EP) and mastering the art of social media. And yes, social media was her first platform in music sharing and it was during the heyday of MySpace where her music was discovered. Thousands of fans, mostly fellow Malaysians, played their part in spreading her bedroom acoustic recordings across the internet and the rest as they say is history.

What made Yuna blossom in Malaysia was not just her music. In a country where players of the local entertainment and music scene are mostly Muslim Malays, the idea of a hijab-wearing personality was still a rare. Pair that with guitar as instrument and an ultimately stylish presence made of Doc Martens boot and colorful head scarves, Yuna brings her esthetics to the scene that can’t simply be ignored. She have since revolutionized the local music scene unlike anyone ever before.

Yuna possessed the kind of crispy-soulful yet sultry voice that will remind you of Norah Jones, Corinne Bailey Rae and Feist. Her songs are the kind that you listen to while lying on a Southern California beach towards the end of winter…alone. Her lyrics mix the theme of love and heartbreaks, friendships, and sometime she speaks of empowering women. As singer-songwriter, Yuna touches the heart of Malaysians through her breakthrough first English single “Deeper Conversation,” (re-released on her United States’ EP Decorate) an acoustic number that speaks in honesty of that learning (and flirting) phase of a relationship. Her sultry voice croons and asks in sincerity, ‘Is your skin as tanned as mine? Does your hair flow sideways? Did someone took a portion of your heart? I’m learning you.’

On “Island,” (off her self-titled U.S. LP) Yuna sings about the journey and dedication of a true relationship, ‘Open up your heart to me, we’ll explore the seven seas. Sail away and find your dreams, and if you drown, I’ll help keep your head up to breathe.’ While she sticks true to herself, being a Muslim woman in a scene where religious righteousness are questionable, she still believe that she ought to live her life and her passion to the fullest without compromising her faith and identity. She sings in her single “Live Your Life,” ‘Find your life, don’t hide from what you are… live if you really want to.

With her head and body fully-covered resembling Muslim chic modesty at best, Yuna sings about love and matters of the heart the way you and I would understand. Regardless of our religion, values and beliefs and even language differences, these topics are the ones that connect us best and she does them oh-so-effortlessly. In “Decorate” – my favorite song of hers to date – Yuna sings beautifully of a hopeless romantic in the midst of heartbreak, ‘I decorate my house with things you love just in case you show up.’ Ladies, don’t tell me you can’t relate.

In 2009, Yuna went on to win four awards including Best New Artist and Best Song in Malaysia’s very own Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM), the country’s own version of the Grammy award. She has since garnered numerous awards locally for both her English and Malay musical works; besides winning a number of popularity awards signaling her tremendous success in her home country. She later went from being just another singer-songwriter to ambassadors for brands like Canon, Samsung Malaysia and beauty brand Olay. By this time, her influence has indeed come full-blown.

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In late 2009, L.A.-based record label and management company Indie Pop flew over to Kuala Lumpur to sign Yuna in order for her to make bigger musical inroads Stateside. Since then, the singer-songwriter worked on the recording of her U.S. EP before signing with New York’s FADER label in Summer 2011. Through FADER, she released the aforementioned EP Decorate to positive reviews and she went on to open for Raphael Saadiq and surprised the music world with her collaboration with super producer Pharrell Williams for her self-titled U.S. debut album, which was recently released in mid-April.

Her self-titled LP sees the Malaysian singer-songwriter exploring the possibility of sound that goes beyond her comfort zone. Her first single off of the new album “Live Your Life” (produced and co-written by Williams) marked this significant shift for Yuna. A mid tempo house-inspired number, the song accentuates Yuna’s subtle voice giving it a terrestrial vibe. It has come by no surprise that the song went to become a hit with a number of remixes released soon after besides being featured on a TV commercial. The songstress has slowly garnered a following in the States with her songs getting radio airplay and an appearance on The Conan O’Brien Show in April. Already making one of her major U.S. music festival performances at Bonnaroo recently, Yuna is currently touring the U.S. with UK’s Graffiti 6 and will also be performing at Lollapalooza in early August.

Where songs performed are those that inspire listeners to think and finding similarities and connection between people and not merely focusing on the differences. And they are songs like Yuna’s that speak of that one common reality of human being – regardless of the unnecessary background details – that when it comes to emotions, love and affections; positivity and the act of kindness; we are all not so different anyway.

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