In about two weeks, Nocturnal, the highly anticipated sophomore album from Kuala Lumpur native, Yuna, will be released following her acclaimed 2012 self-titled debut album. Earlier this spring, she had also released an EP, Sixth Street, only garnering more interest for her second studio album. And as a Muslim woman who also wears the hijab, she has cultivated a unique sense of style that is both modest and fashionable that also sets her apart from musicians today.
Yuna, born Yunalis Zarai, started songwriting – mainly in English – at 14 and began performing at 19 while attending law school. What started off as a hobby soon became a viable career when she released a self-titled debut EP in 2008 through an independent Malaysian label. In the midst of law school, she found time to write and release music and even started her own local women’s fashion boutique, IAMJETFUEL. After winning numerous music awards in Malaysia and solidifying her status as a musician in her home country, an independent label in L.A. contacted Yuna after seeing clips of her music online. In the following months, Yuna went stateside and started recording in L.A., quickly getting signed to the FADER label and releasing her American debut, Decorate, in 2011. Her self-titled full album was released the next year featuring the lead single “Live Your Life,” produced by Pharrell Williams. Since then, she has toured with American neo-soul artist Raphael Saadiq and played sets at Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo.
Now signed under Verve Records, her sophomore album includes tracks produced by Robin Hannibal of Quadron and Rhye, Chris Braide who has worked with Sia and Paloma Faith, and Michael Einzinger of Incubus. Not only has she gained a large, international fan base – spurred on with the help of the internet and her presence on Tumblr and initially MySpace – but heavyweights in the music industry have also been singing her praises.
Her latest EP, Sixth Street, features the lush and whimsical single “I Wanna Go.” The musical equivalent of a gentle summer breeze and melting chocolate, Yuna’s soft voice glides over melodic instrumentals, a pleasant combination that is undeniably uplifting and smile-inducing. There’s an attention to detail with pacing and tone that adds depth to what could have been a very simple pop song. It starts off with a steady guitar and drum line that reflect the hesitation and wonder in Yuna’s lyrics. But as her resolve and affection strengthen and she sings the hook, smooth background vocals and added instrumentation create interesting layers that take the song from expected to enthralling.
Off her latest album, Nocturnal, Yuna combines her dreamy vocals with more dramatic instrumentation on “Falling,” using tinny percussion and sweeping violins to fully convey her melancholy over falling in love. It’s a more dance-y track with a pounding rhythm that’s equal parts wistful and determined.
Thrumming with life and self-empowerment, another track off her sophomore album, “Rescue,” is rife with hand-claps and strong lyrics. Yuna’s inspiration for this song came from a friend who was going through a rough time but showed resilience and ended up a “stronger, happier person.” In an interview with MTV Hive about “Rescue,” Yuna explained, “I feel like it’s for all the strong individuals out there, regardless their race, background, and gender.”
By Teta Alim