Artist Watch: Yuna

Genres: Adult Alternative, Acoustic, Folk Rock, R&B, Indie Pop

Instruments: Vocals, Guitar, Ukulele

Yunalis Mat Zara’ai, is a singer-songwriter who was born and raised in Kedah, Malaysia where she began her passion with music. When she was fourteen, she began writing her own songs at that young age. She is better known by her stage name, Yuna in her native country of Malaysia and around the world. By the age of fourteen, she also taught herself how to play guitar she went on to go to Law school but she used music as an outlet while she finished her studies. She performed for her first time in front of a live audience in 2006 while still studying for her law degree.

“In my final year of law school, everything became real,” Yuna said in her interview with Billboard magazine. “So after graduating, I decided to go for it, I didn’t think I’d be a good lawyer anyway” she stated on why she didn’t pursue her goals of becoming a lawyer after law school.

During her law school days, Yuna was very much involved in the music scene. After her first live performance in 2006, numerous live performances followed. In the same year, she auditioned for One in a Million a Malaysian reality-competition show (Equivalent to the U. S’s The Voice or American Idol) Yuna made it to the Top 40 on the show, before she got cut from the competition but that did not ruin her spirit, she continued to pursue her music career after the competition’s loss.

The singer-songwriter wrote her first English song at the age of nineteen after viewing a YouTube clip of a Feist show. Though her fame skyrocketed in Malaysia in 2010 her English-language songs were not popular in her native country of Malaysia. Her solution was to travel to the United States.

Before the big move, the Yuna started offering her music via her MySpace which went on to net over one million online plays. Yuna’s online success got her noticed by Indie-Pop label management company, Fader Label and she was signed with the label by 2011. The Fader label helped Yuna release her self-titled debut of breezy, according to Billboard.com the album was distributed by RED and had tracks produced by Pharrell Williams.

After signing on with Fader, she was joined by guitarist Pa’an, bassist Efry Arwin and drummer Adib Azfar as her back-up band. Yuna performs with her band when she is not active in acoustic shows.

Yuna made her record debut in Malaysia in 2008 with a self-titled EP, which went on to win five Malaysian Music Awards nominations, (the Malaysian “Grammy”) She won four of those nominations including Best New Artist, Best Song for “Dan Sebenarnya” her first breakout hit in her hometown of Malaysia.

 Her second album Decorate came out in 2011. Her second album included her song “Rocket” which won raves from Billboard magazine, Hip-Hop mogul Russell Simmons, and was featured on Spin’s magazine’s “Eight Bands You Need to Hear Now”. This followed by a nomination for one of MTV’s Best Band’s in the World in 2011.

In the following year, Grammy Award-Winning producer, Pharrell Williams noticed the singer and helped her produce her single “Live your Live” which debuted on iTunes in January 2011. The MTV Iggy award she received described her song as “polished until it gleams but instead of burying Yuna it lifts her up. The track has hints that a diva is waiting to shine”. The official music video for “Live your Life” was released February 16, 2012.

On April 24, 2012 Yuna’s full record self-titled album was released. Which was No.23 on the Pop chart, No.86 on the Top 100 Albums on iTunes and Yuna was No. 23 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Chart.

“Yuna presents a global twist on the recent crop of rising superstars, and her new music is a sonic boost from the beautiful but bare-bones,” said Dan Sebenarnya in an interview with Billboard.com. Yuna states “Music has to change” in the same interview “I don’t want to stay the same forever. I can’t.”

Pharrell Williams isn't the only talent that has taken a liking to Yuna's style of music. Usher has shown interest in the artist. Bustle.com raved about the singer's "sweet-voice" on Usher's single "Crush". 

Yuna has four Malaysian albums: Yuna (2008) Decorate (2010) Terukir Di Bintang (2012) Material (2015) 

And Five international albums: Decorate (EP) (2011), Yuna (2012) Sixth Street (EP) (2013) Nocturnal (2013) Chapters (2016) 

Yuna has been nominated and won a significant amount of awards in both Malaysia and the U.S, she's still "up and coming" but based on the artist that have already discovered her, it looks as if she has a bright future ahead of her, check out her latest single Crush feat. Usher.