KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 14 — I first heard her vocals through a song being played on the radio while stuck in Friday evening traffic. Jazz acoustic infused sounds. Not your typical Malay number. Intriguing indeed.
I didn’t know what the song title was nor who sang it. What I do know is that the song was played over and over again on the radio for the next few coming months. Needless to say, the song “Dan Sebenarnya” went on to propel her presence in the local music industry.
Yunalis Zarai (Yuna) is one of the very few Malaysian female singer-songwriters today, apart from Zee Avi (who is based in the US), Liyana Fizi and Ana Raffali. All of them play the guitar and play them well too.
Those who read my rants on social media would testify that I was always critical about Yuna and the number of accolades she won locally. She has a huge fan base despite her songs being different from the usual Malay tunes.
I attributed that to Yuna’s hijab, which I believe to be a soft-spot factor for the Malay listeners. I have heard her other songs through YouTube and MP3s. They were well, different and different is good.
But good does not necessarily mean great. Although I felt Yuna is able to show much more beyond the hijab-wearing-guitar-slingin’ image which became a trend, of course. I knew she is smarter and I was waiting for her next move.
This New York Post article changed my views on Yuna (picture). The international market seems to recognise her talent. She was even dubbed Fiona Apple 2.0.
Although sceptical, I applauded her decision to be based in the US, surrounded by good producers and industry professionals. The experience would do her good. Just look at Zee Avi.
From various sources, I quietly followed Yuna’s progress. She performed in New York’s Mercury Lounge and several other influential venues and radio stations. And there was that Russell Simmons comment on how her music is incredible.
Yuna also produced her EP there. If you look on YouTube, you could find cover of her songs being played by Americans — no joke.
Early last month, my sister asked if I would like to watch Yuna Live at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas. I said, “Yes”.
Yuna promised to wear a dress if she played to a sold-out crowd last night. She wore a slim blue dress, topped with an Erykah Badu-like head accessory. I really thought she looked pretty.
She opened the night with a fairly catchy, organic number to the delight of her fans. I felt that Yuna’s rapport with the audience could be improved. It may have been quite familiar to those who have been to her casual gigs.
I’m not suggesting she should be an uptight, pretentious diva but a rather refined, polished Yuna would suit the venue. She shared songs from her US EP, as well as a cover of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”, which was absolutely brilliant.
“Decorate”, which is essentially her anthem, was deep and pure as any song can be.
The experimental Fears and Frustrations, which was derived from the influence of her favourite band, Portishead; I liked that one.
Most people would probably discount my opinion since I’m not from the music industry. But I do believe that there are distinct differences in her US and locally produced songs. Sound is a key factor. A good sound will turn heads of music moguls. Just ask Russell Simmons.
I truly believe Yuna genuinely has a great opportunity to shine in the international market. She needs to constantly surprise sceptics like me who secretly admire her for true grit and determination.
Talent itself is never enough. But she knows that. I look forward to her next Dewan Filharmonik performance, and hope that it will be as the one I saw: refined, polished, classy and, hopefully, something to be truly remembered.