Malaysian born songstress Yuna has been charming her way across America for the past two years, wooing crowds with buoyant tones and a seemingly effortless confluence of warm, playful melodies and a neighborly otherness that renders her debonair mien at once both new and familiar.
Since the release of last year’s “Live Your Life,” a breezy collaboration with the ageless Pharrell Williams, Yuna has been popping up at different ends of the musical spectrum. She was first given the emo-step remix rinse by Adventure Club before going viral with a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ Bout You“. She’s done it all while rocking the most badass headscarf since Erykah Badu.
The colorful patterns sheathing her hair could be considered one of the most positive expressions of modern Islamic identity in American music to date, but she refers to her hijab-adjacent stylings in an understated way. Most people don’t even know that it is an expression of faith and not fashion. It all comes down to modesty, an ideal that Yuna holds close. “Modesty is a beautiful thing,” she says, “It doesn’t always have to be ‘skin, skin, skin.’ It’s difficult for people who don’t understand. They look at me and they see oppression, but I don’t feel oppressed. It’s my choice.”
In a way, her reservations act as a buffer for the less savory elements of commercial music. She explains, “There’re a lot of things out there that are fabricated. A lot of people write about, like, fame, gold chains and stuff. That’s great, but I realize that I have responsibilities as a songwriter. People here want something that’s real. When I put my music out there, I don’t have anything else to offer, no skin. It’s just music.”
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TEXT JEMAYEL KHAWAJA
PHOTO YOSHINO @ 7 ARTIST MANAGEMENT