Yuna: Malaysian Cool

OzAsia bound Malaysian singer Yuna is on the verge of breaking through the underground with her delicate soulful pop that has seen her work with Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo and championed by Def Jam’s Russell Simmons.

Currently recording her second album, the former law student issued her first EP for the legendary Verve imprint, the Sixth Street EP, earlier this year. Yuna, who divides her time between Kuala Lumpur and Los Angeles, will make her Adelaide debut with her two OzAsia appearances. “I really don’t know what to expect,” Yuna explains from Los Angeles. “I’ve never been to Adelaide before. I’ve heard a lot about this festival [OzAsia] and people rave about it and Adelaide. There are a lot of Malaysians there who say, ‘Oh, come out to Adelaide. Come. You’ll love it. It’s cool.’ I’m Malaysian, I’m making music in LA but I have fans that are Malaysian and American but I didn’t know I had fans in Australia. I’ve never performed there, so I can’t wait to go and hopefully surprise myself with the fans who are going to come to the show.” Yuna released her self-titled debut EP in Malaysia in 2008 before going on to win many AIM Awards (Malaysia’s music awards) in the following years. She was picked up by New York’s FADER label and released her debut album in 2012, which saw her work with Guy Sebastian and The Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams. The album’s smooth jazz pop mixed with an urban sensibility sounded like Feist, Sia and Alicia Keys jamming in a late night jazz cafe. With her soft yet powerful voice, the album was punctuated with the singles Live Your Life and Lullabies with Yuna working with Pharrell on the aforementioned track. She collaborated with Chad Hugo (Pharrell’s Neptunes and N.E.R.D. partner in crime) for her upcoming album, which will be her first on Verve, the home to Natalie Cole, Carla Bruni and Andrea Bocelli. “They both have similar but different styles,” Yuna says of Chad and Pharrell. “It was really fun to work with both of them. I mean who else could say something like that? Yeah, I worked with Pharrell and I worked with Chad Hugo,” she laughs. “It was really exciting for me. Working with Pharrell was really cool because I got to be in Miami and be in the studio for five days. With Chad we didn’t have much time together but we managed to come up with a couple of songs and one of the songs we worked on is one of my favourites and one of the strongest songs on the album. I’m excited about the response. Chad loves the song, I love the song and the label loves the song. So, I hope everyone’s going to love the song.” Her Verve signing is also a brave move by both Verve and Yuna, as of late Verve is renowned for their vocal jazz standards. “They’re famous for all these amazing jazz artists and when they first signed me, I thought, ‘Oh cool, does this mean I have to do a jazz record?’ That was my background, kind of. I used to do a lot of singer/songwriter music with just a guitar and me. I’ve been doing a lot of pop music for the last two years that I’ve been out here and it’s something I really enjoy making. They were like, ‘Oh no, we love your sound and you’re free to do whatever you’re comfortable with’. I’m excited to be signed to them and they are really supportive of the music I want to make and so far recording and everything else has been really good.” Her upcoming album will see her experiment with traditional Malay instruments as she discovered her soul and R&B side with the Sixth Street EP. “I want to explore more of that field and also want to experiment with traditional instruments. With Malay traditional music, there are a lot of amazing instruments that I feel not a lot of people know a lot about and it could be a fun thing to experiment with and that’s exactly what I want to do with this album. “I want to use these traditional instruments and make them pop. I was inspired by Paul Simon and when he went to Africa and released this amazing album [Graceland] by using African influenced music and melodies.” But the traditional Malay instruments and the new album aren’t likely to be previewed at her OzAsia performances. “The shows will be the usual shows I perform because the album won’t be out until October. I still have some new music from the EP and that’s pretty exciting, as I’ve never performed songs from the EP outside of America before, so it’s great to be able to do that in Adelaide. I’ve never been to Adelaide before, so I will be performing a lot of songs from my first album as well.” Malaysian Indie Scene Yuna says the independent music scene took Malaysia by storm a few years ago. “A lot of kids were coming up with new music and embracing technology and social networks and promoting their music online and by guerilla promoting instead of looking for a record label,” she explains. “Back then they were stuck with the formula of producing the same pop ballad sound that was so famous. A lot of kids wanted something new and fresh and I was one of those kids. I joined a bunch of festivals and independent gigs all organised by young kids who were passionate about music. That took off for a little bit but died down after that.”

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