The artist known as Yuna joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to talk about her U.S. tour, her new album “Nocturnal” and how her belief in Islam factors into her music and what she wears when she performs.
The Malaysian singer-songwriter is also a businesswoman. She co-owns a clothes boutique in Subang Jaya, Selangor called IAMJETFUELshop.
Interview Highlights: Yuna
On getting attention for her headscarves
“Even in Malaysia it was a little bit of a new thing. We have Malay Muslim girls who were performers, they were artists. But for me, I was the first one who covered up and, you know, I just wanted to be myself. I didn't want to change for the industry or anything like that.”
“Seven, eight years ago, I was approached by a recording label. But this was in Malaysia, so they were telling me like it would be a little bit difficult for me if I were to be wearing the hijab, so that was kind of why I didn't go through labels. Instead, I started my own company and I recorded myself, you know, like produced my own albums and stuff like that.”
On who she’s singing to
“I see myself as a storyteller so sometimes I feel like I'm writing to an audience. But at the same time, sometimes I feel like I'm writing to just one person, if it's like based on my personal experience. But yeah, I mean, I get my inspiration from a lot of different things. For example, like if I talk to a friend and, you know like if she's going through a bad relationship and stuff like that, you know that's something that would — like oh okay maybe I will sing about this, I feel like a lot of people can relate to this.”
On how religion figures into her music
“It plays a huge part. Obviously, you know, it is what it is. I’m a Malaysian Muslim, I grew up practicing Islam and there’s a focus there to just make music for a greater good. You know what I mean? Like I don’t sing about dancing in clubs and stuff like that. I feel like I have a little bit of a responsibility, and just making music to make people feel good about themselves. And you know, I just want to spread this positive energy and I think, even though we're all different, in music there's no — it's borderless, you know? And I feel that's a way for me to reach out to people who are not like me but they could relate to my songs.”
On people calling her song “Rescue” a feminist anthem
“I find it really weird because I don't consider myself a feminist. And I don't see how that song is a feminist anthem. It's just a song I wrote about all the strong women I know in my life. For example, my mom and my friends back home in Malaysia. They’ve gone through so much and they're so strong. And my mom, she's a really strong individual, emotionally and physically and spiritually, and she’s always out there, looking out for me. I guess I just wanted to celebrate that strength.”
- Yunalis Mat Zara’ai, Malaysian singer, songwriter and businesswoman known professionally as Yuna. She tweets @yunamusic.