Malaysian born music artist Yunalis Mat Zara’ai, better known as Yuna, recently made a stop in Detroit’s own beautiful Chene Park Amphitheater for the first weekend summer concert series of the season. On Saturday, June 9, she opened up for R&B crooner Ro James and the multi-talented Jhene Aiko, and her performance was nothing short of amazing. She wowed the crowd with her soothing vocals as she sparkled across the stage in a pair of bright and funky shimmy pants, matched up with a cute black crop top. Her audience sang along with her as she vibed out in front of the glistening backdrop of the Detroit River.
Before she hit the stage, rolling out obtained an exclusive interview where the ‘Crush’ singer discussed her unique style of music that she likes to call “lush-pop”, her modesty of style and why she rocks the headscarf, and also new music and a couple of collabs she would like to work on in the future.
Check out the article below to see what else she’s been up to, including when she’s dropping new music.
Welcome back to the D. This is your third time here, so did you get a chance to sightsee?
A little bit. This time is a little different. I have my husband here with me. So, this is his first time in Detroit, so we just walked around downtown, and it was great!
For those of your fans that don’t know, your full name is Yunalis binti Mat Zara’ai, and you’re originally from Malaysia. However, you got your start from social media, but kind of like vintage social media, via MySpace tell us more about your start.
Music was something I did for fun. MySpace was pretty much the only platform that I had at that time. You had YouTube, but for me, I just wanted to put out an EP. MySpace was perfect for that. I had a million plays, which was kind of weird, but that was like my first experience with [how] something could go viral. So, it was incredible. So, I recorded my first EP, and here I am.
Now, you’ve been linked to major recording artists such as Usher, with the hit single Crush. And we love your unique sound. When did you know that music was your calling?
I’ve always loved music, ever since I was a kid. And I always wanted to be a singer, but I knew it wasn’t that simple. I think the moment came when I learned that I could actually wright songs. That changed the entire game, and I was like ‘ok. I want to do this full time’, I’m going to be performing my own songs, I’m not covering other people’s songs anymore, so I think that changed my mind about music. And I [thought to myself] this could be a career for me.
How did you establish your sound and what would you consider your style of music?
I started out as a singer-songwriter. I did a lot of folk music, jazz, and a little bit of soul music as well. After that, I started going into pop a lot, and merging R&B and pop together. I like to experiment with different sounds, but at the end of it all, my voice ties them up together. I think I call it lush pop, someone mentioned that to me. They said “I think your genre is like lush pop,” and I was like ooh … I like that!
What about your style? It’s very unique. It’s classy, it’s laid-back, but it’s also sophisticated at the same time. Tell us more.
Well, I’m a practicing Muslim, so I wear the headscarf all the time, and I observe modesty. I just kind of like to have fun and experiment with fashion. I’m staying true to my identity and also being comfortable in my own skin. I think that’s important for everyone, and any girl out there.
Being comfortable in your own skin is very important for everyone. Now, let’s talk about your music for a bit here. How would you describe your creative process from concept to complete song?
I think I just freestyle it most of the time. I go into the studio with a producer that I love, that I’m a fan of. I sometimes just let the producer do his own thing, and I just come in and kind of like jam out to the songs. Mostly, it works like that. But sometimes I like to just stay at home and play the keyboard or the piano or the guitar and come up with something and just get the idea to the producer and we build something from that.
You mentioned working with producers that you like. What does your selection process look like?
It’s kind of like a blind date, you know? It’s like let’s try out this producer, or someone that I reach out to on Instagram, it’s kind of like that. It’s like, oooh, I’m a big fan of your music, let’s work together. Or someone might hit me and up and be like, “Oh, I’m a fan of your voice. I think you’d be perfect for the song I’m working on.” So, sometimes it’s like that. But also, my manager Ben is awesome. He puts me in the room with amazing, creative people. I’m really lucky to have supportive people who know and understand what I’m all about and putting me in the room with someone who can bring out the best songwriter in me.
Sounds great. Now, tell us who’s in your playlist right now? And what do you think about Cardi B?
Well, let’s see. Beyonce, of course. And I love Cardi B!
What’s your favorite Cardi B song?
I haven’t listened to the new album yet, but I just love her. I feel like I know her [through] social media. So, she’s amazing. I think “Bodak Yellow” is my favorite song. It’s just really her. I think she’s amazing in being true to herself. Like, she’s so interesting to see and interesting to watch!
Cardi B. is very funny. We love her too! Staying in the same vein of people you love, who would you like to work with next, and perhaps do a duet?
I would love to work with Kendrick [Lamar] at some point. I love Alicia Keys. I think at some point, I want to get into a room with her and just sit and write.
Photo Credit: Porsha Monique for Steed Media
Finish the sentences
When I hit the stage I feel like …
Amazing, inspired, I feel like I’m a different person when I’m on stage.
I appreciate my fans because …
They know who I am. They pretty much know what’s good for me, what’s not good for me. Sometimes I listen to them. They give me directions on like where to go in my career, so I really love them a lot for doing that.
When the crowd is responding to my music, I know …
I know that I’m on the right path.
When you find my music, I want you to …
Feel good about yourself and be happy and just enjoy the moment and enjoy life.
The last book that I read is …
Wow. What was the last book that I read? Ready Player One. [My husband and I] read this book together.
What else is going on with you? Any new projects?
I’m working on my new album right now, and it’s very exciting. I’m so excited to put it out. I feel like it’s been forever. I’ve worked on it for like two years now. We might put out a single soon.
Any parting words?
Yes, I just want to say thank you to all the fans for embracing my music, I love you guys for doing that and supporting me as an artist, so thank you!
Wonderful. Where can we follow you?
I’m on Instagram quite a lot @YunaMusic, Twitter as well, @YunaMusic. Once in a while, I vlog on my website, www.YunaZeraia.com. Oh, and I make earrings too. And you can get them on my website, www.YunaZeraia.com as well.