Malaysian Singer Yuna Is Making Her Mark In The States


Yunalis Zarai, better known as Yuna, is one busy singer/songwriter who is a relative new comer to fans in the States. Her shows are filled with appearances by celebrities like Nicole Richie, Dave Chappelle and rapper Theophilus London, unusual for 26-year-old from Malaysia. Signed to FADER’s record label, the singer is always busy. She got a number of interviews going alongside a photo shoot with a renowned fashion portal and from New York, she headed to Sweetlife Festival in Maryland, which she’s scheduled to play.

She recently performed at Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza upcoming in August. With such a busy schedule, you would expect her to fall flat due to exhaustion. But she hasn’t and yet she continues to strike a balance between making music, touring life, looking pretty and chic (oh yes, she’s one hell of a fashionista) and replying to Twitter mentions. An active user on the social media site, Yuna keep her followers posted from time to time: “Good morning! Having orange + carrot juice and now off to work. Working on an exciting project! ;)” She consistently posts Instagram photos of her life on the road, which gives fans a glimpse into her life. A recent picture taken while she was in Tennessee for Bonnaroo showing her condition in having to get ready in a public toilet complete with her backpack of toiletries and makeup; Yuna make sure she keeps her fans and followers are connected with her touring life.

Currently on her first U.S. tour with UK’s Graffiti 6, Yuna took the time to share her experiences working with The Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams and what her dream show would be and what it’s like being a fully covered Muslim singer/songwriter in the United States.

Nazirah Ashari: Your first full-length U.S. record sees you embarking on a slightly different direction. Tell us more about it.
Yuna: Musically it’s quite a significant departure from the kind of material I’m known for back in my country of Malaysia, but it is the kind of direction that I feel like I’ll be heading into at some point in my career. It’s a lot more eclectic than any record I’ve done before this. You’ll know what I mean when you listen to the whole thing.

NA: How is this American record different from any of your Malaysian releases?
Yuna: What’s most significantly different is that in this record, I worked with a few other songwriters and producers whereas back home, it’ll be just between my bandmates and me.


NA: You worked with award-winning producer Pharrell Williams for this record. How did that come about in the first place? How does it feel to work with such a major name in the industry?
Yuna: All thanks to the great people from my label and the people on Pharrell’s side. I was obviously star-struck at first but Pharrell was such a pleasure to work with and it all felt natural in the end. It was quite humbling but also empowering at the same time because he believed in my talents and what I could accomplish with it.

NA: MTV Iggy described how your first single “Live Your Life” has that hint of a diva waiting to shine. What do you have to say about that? Are we looking at the making of a diva?
Yuna: Diva? Haha. I’ll take that as a compliment I guess but I don’t aim to achieve such status. I’m just a simple girl that was given an extraordinary opportunity to make my music heard here in the States and to work with so many talented people along the way. I just want to grow and mature further as a songwriter and a singer. All the other things are just further blessings or bonuses along the way.

NA: Are you nervous about what the critics and fans alike might say to this upcoming album?
Yuna: Of course I am! Again, I feel this is my most diverse body of work to date. I’m also quite nervous about what to expect from my fans back in Malaysia when they listen to this album. I hope they will enjoy listening to it as I was making it!

NA: From MySpace to national success in your home country Malaysia and now with New York’s FADER Label, you’re aiming to making out in the States. Are you ready for the challenges that await you? What’s your agenda to make this ‘dream’ a reality?
Yuna: I’ve been in the States for more than a year now, and all the while I’ve been exposed to so many workings of the industry here. I wake up every day preparing myself for whatever obstacles that may come. I’m taking things day-by-day still. Thankfully I’m always connected to my family back home in Malaysia so that keeps me grounded. There’s no shortcut to success so my only agenda is to work as hard as I can and not to waste the opportunities given to me to be that closer to my dreams.
This is part one of our interview with Yuna. Check back next week for the second half of our interview.

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