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Friday, September 23, 2016

Malaysian Singer Yuna Embraces Role as Advocate for Tolerance and Acceptance

Posted By on Fri, Sep 23, 2016 at 8:04 AM

click to enlarge AIMANESS HARUN
  • Aimaness Harun
Originally popular in her native Malaysia, pop/soul/R&B singer Yuna has become a star in the States too. In fact, she's now known throughout the world.

The music video for her current single, "Crush," a sparse song that pairs her with R&B icon Usher, has received over 13 million views on Youtube, and her latest album, Chapters, possesses an old school soul/R&B vibe that shows just how much she's matured as a singer and songwriter.

Yuna began writing songs when she was only 14. Even at that early age, she was reaching for something deeper with her lyrics. 

“I was the only child at the time that I started writing,” she says via phone from Los Angeles. “I just lost my cousin. She lived with me for a long time. She was like my sister. We took her in and my parents raised her as their own child, and I lost her. I was dealing with a lot of stuff. I wrote a lot at the time. At the time, my love for music started to grow from the songs I was listening to on the radio to discovering Lauryn Hill. I was listening to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and that sparked that want to write. That’s prompted me to start writing. “

Her career initially took off in her native Malaysia, where she released her self-titled debut. The album received five Malaysian Music Awards nominations. Subsequent albums have helped propel her to international fame. Yuna says she wanted Chapters to be a departure from her previous release, 2013's Nocturnal.

“I wanted something different from everything I’ve done,” she says. “I was working with these producers Fisticuffs who are super talented. I worked with [producer] Robin Hannibal again. They all do urban contemporary music. That was the direction I wanted. I was a huge fan of Frank Ocean and the Internet, those guys are my friends, and the Weeknd. I’m a pop artist, but I wanted to try something more soulful. I tried doing some R&B music on my previous albums, and they did have their moments. I really just wanted to push the urban contemporary sound onto my album and make it my own and see what happens. I’m thankful that fans seemed to enjoy it and like the new thing that I’m doing.”

She met Usher a few years ago and informally discussed collaborating at that point. When she initially recorded “Crush,” he wasn't on the track, and she felt “something was missing” and thought Usher might spice the tune up. 

“I thought we needed a male vocal,” she says. “I thought Usher would be perfect. I didn’t want anyone else but him. When I wrote that song, I wanted to bring back that early 2000s R&B music that I really love, and it worked out really well.”

The music video for “Mannequin,” a song with wispy vocals and percolating synths, comes off like a short film as the dancers portray a relationship that’s lost its spark. Yuna says the dancers brought her vision for the tune to life.

"For 'Mannequin,' I wanted it be something where viewers can relate to that music they hear," she says. "Sometimes, you feel like the love is gone in a relationship, and there’s a feeling of abandonment. The girl feels abandoned by the guy and maybe they part ways for just a little while so they can back into their grooves. You see them doing their own things and dancing. Those two dancers are my friends. They’re super talented, and I’m so proud that they wanted to be part of this video."

Outside of music, Yuna is a devout Muslim, something that might not sit well with a certain presidential candidate and his followers. She says she thinks her career gives her the opportunity to promote tolerance and acceptance during a time of intolerance.

“I’m a walking poster child for [tolerance and acceptance],” she says. “I don’t have to do anything. It’s kind of nice. In the beginning, I felt like I was an outsider and a foreigner. Now, I feel more at home and at ease with the people I interact with. I feel like they can connect with me."

She says her concerts attract diverse crowds, something she embraces and celebrates.

"If you go to my shows, you see people from different walks of life," she says. "There are Muslims and Jews and Asian-Americans and Hispanics. They come and enjoy the music. It’s nice to be able to do that. Not a lot of people have that pull from their music. It’s important for me to not preach about it. I hate preaching about how we need to come together. I just let it speak for itself. Whatever you see at my show is an example of what needs to happen in your daily lives. We need to come together and integrate and communicate and understand. It’s a nice thing to be able to promote that in very subtle ways.”

Yuna, Ńÿłø. 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, House of Blues Cambridge Room, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $20, houseofblues.com.

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