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Yuna Brings Sounds From Malaysia To The U.S.

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.”

[Youtube]

Guest

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Yuna and Lincoln Jesser are pictured at the Here & Now studios. (Jesse Costa/Here & Now)
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Yuna and Lincoln Jesser are pictured at the Here & Now studios. (Jesse Costa/Here & Now)

Here & Now host Jeremy Hobson (center) is pictured with Yuna and Lincoln Jesser. (Here & Now)
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Here & Now host Jeremy Hobson (center) is pictured with Yuna and Lincoln Jesser. (Here & Now)