Singing Sensation Yuna On Crafting Her Career Without Compromising Her Faith

By Lily Ong

Every week leading up to Malaysia Day, we shine a spotlight on a Generation T lister who has made our country proud on the international stage. We start off strong with singer-songwriter Yuna, who achieved success on her own terms despite facing criticism from the East and West for upholding her beliefs and values.

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Above  (Photo: Aimanness Harun)

Singer-songwriter Yuna Zarai is putting Malaysia on the map with her breakthroughs in the international music and fashion scene. Conquering the Bilboard charts? Check. Collaborating with international hitmakers like Usher, Jhene Aiko and G Eazy? Check. Gracing the pages of Vogue Arabia? Check.

Despite these accomplishments, life isn’t always peachy for the two-time Generation T lister. Due to the enormity of her fame, Yuna is subject to public scrutiny on a regular basis, especially in regards to her style, faith and life choices.

For example, at home, some Malaysians think she is too modern for a Muslim woman for chasing her dreams in the US. On the opposite side of the world, there are those who refuse to place a bet on her bankability as a superstar because she chooses to keep her headscarf on. Today, she remains steadfast in her own values despite the "noise and chatter" about her appearance—choosing to let her talent and skill as a singer-songwriter open doors for her instead.

Here in an exclusive interview, the newly-minted Mrs Adam Sinclair talks about the highlights of her career, her patriotic hopes and how she finds strength to carry on in the face of adversity.

What is your definition of success?

Success is not only money or wealth. Expensive things won’t bring you complete happiness. To me, being successful is about leading a full, exciting life of adventure and earning enough money to take care of yourself and the people you love.

What’s your proudest achievement to date?

Writing my very first song when I was 20 years old in my bedroom. Years later, it was recognised as the 'Song Of The Year' at the Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) awards!

Why did you decide to pursue a career in entertainment?

I discovered from a young age that I have a flair for writing songs. Knowing that other people loved my songs sustained my purpose. To be frank though, the entertainment industry does come with a lot of things I do not like—like losing my privacy—but I deal with these obstacles because I love music so much!

What’s the toughest challenge you’ve faced in your career so far?

Juggling my music career and personal life without dropping the ball. It was a struggle to properly organise my time working on album in the US and planning my wedding from across the globe, but I managed to do it!

What was the highlight of your career so far?

“Launching successful singles with Usher and Jhene Aiko. I was also honoured to have a chance to perform at the Soul Trains Awards.”

What is latest book, music or film that is influencing your works right now?

The book that inspired me to pursue music was Just Kids by Patti Smith, which narrates how she first got into music and moved into New York in the late 60s.

It is not a film per se, but when I was 19,  I watched a Youtube video of Canadian musician Feist that convinced me that it would be cool to be a singer-songwriter who played the guitar.

How do you hope to impact Malaysia in the future?

I hope as a Malaysian singer-songwriter based in LA, I will inspire the youths of our country to reach for bigger goals. Don’t limit yourself. No one will be mad at you for dreaming big and wanting more outside of what people say you can do.

What do you think stand between you and complete happiness?

My ego! Sometimes, I always remind myself to bring my guard down and just be humble. With humility, it opens up a lot of opportunities for you.

You stood by your beliefs despite the hypercritical industry you are in. What advice would you give for those who are trying to stand up to discrimination?

Always look for the positive side of things. It is easy to get caught up in other people’s opinions. I am glad I held on to my tudung all these years. I owned it and I know that no one can take that away from me. People can say whatever they want about me, but I know what it took and cost me to keep my scarf on in the US music scene. No one from home can understand my struggles, and it’s fine. I would say, ignore the ignorant and listen to your own gut.

What legacy would you like to leave behind?

I want my music to touch hearts around the world. People will remember a great song forever.

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