Everything You Need to Know About Yuna, Malaysia’s Hijabi Songstress
What do you get when you mix a law degree, a swooning Usher, a clothing line called November Culture, and soulful R&B-infused vocals that pack a heavenly punch? The answer is Yuna. The Malaysian born, hijab-wearing, Muslim singer—born Yunalis Mat Zara’ai—has already conquered Malaysia, but with Friday’s release of her third U.S. album Chapters, she looks poised to take over America’s R&B scene one song at a time. Featuring vocals from Jhené Aiko and Usher, the album is a powerful embrace of love, loss, and turning 30 without the midlife crisis and tramp stamps we’ve come to expect from that treacherous slide out of our 20s.
Way before she became the yin to Usher’s yang in her cute black and white video for “Crush,” Yuna was hitting the books to get her law degree back in Malaysia. After graduating in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies, she began performing the songs she’d been writing since the age of 14 and, from that, garnered an ever-growing following on Myspace. Now she’s settling comfortably into the illustrious role of Pharrell Williams’ protégé. Now, she’s more ready than ever to conquer the American music scene, one hijab at a time—which begs some questions, considering what a divisive time it is for Muslim people.
Luckily, the onslaught of questions about her religion and headscarf are met with a kindness that’s become as much a part of her identity as her beautiful voice. For Yuna, the questions are welcomed as long as they start a dialogue. “It doesn’t matter what faith you believe in. When you do music, it’s your job,” she explained to the San Francisco Gate. “Those things shouldn’t matter. My religion is really private to me, I don’t discuss about it. But because I practice it with my image, it’s going to start a conversation. I respect that.”
So how did a singer who has already won nine awards in Malaysia and who’s accumulated a number of nominations abroad become one of the most promising artists of the year? It all started by chance, she said, and with some help from a group of friends in the music industry. “They were actively performing at local gigs and local venues, and I hung around so much that I caught the bug.” Sounds a lot more promising than the last time we caught a bug…
With the release of Chapters, Yuna is embarking on a new chapter (we had to) of her musical career that’s as much about a breakup as it is about her slide into the flirty 30s. It’s all culminated in an overwhelming sense of self-awareness that’s led her to this point. “I went through all these things, and now I’m sure of myself. You know the kind of people that you want to be around, or you know the things that you want to do to move forward. It’s fun,” she explained. While we wait for our own sense of self to develop as we careen through our 20s like a wrecking ball, we’ll be dancing along to her beats and singing her heartbreaking ballads. And we suggest you do the same.
Stay tuned to Milk for more emerging artists.
Images via Mic and Live in Limbo