October 2, 2013
Straight from the pages of RAGGED, we’re thrilled to give you an exclusive excerpt from our interview with the luminous Yuna. Be sure to grab the full issue download (for free!) for the rest of the article and more photos with Yuna.
Last year, Yuna Zarai (known professionally simply by her first name) covered Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You.” In the video clip, the Malaysian singer-songwriter stands in her downtown Los Angeles apartment, looping each vocal layer. At the end of the impressive one-take performance, she acknowledges the camera for the first time, giving it a knowing smirk. Well…at least that’s how it appears.
“I was looking at the camera, looking at my friend who was shooting like, ‘OK, we have it? OK, cool,’” she says, laughing at the misinterpretation.
Yuna has forged an impressively burgeoning career out of making things look easy. Growing up in Kuala Lumpur, the only-child often found herself with just the television to keep her company. The digital babysitter led her to a shocking discovery—she could sing surprisingly well. Yuna remembers the moment of discovery vividly.
“There would be all these commercial jingles on TV,” she recounts. “So I’d sing along to them. I was like, ‘Hey, this is not bad. I kinda sound like the girl who is singing this tune.’ I was young, I could tell. Not boasting or anything. But I was impressed. Wait a minute, I could sing! It was a cute moment for myself.”
Her parents immediately began encouraging her talent, first with piano lessons and later with voice training. Despite a small following in her hometown, Yuna was disenchanted with her initial attempts at making a career out of music. Finally she opted to go to law school. However, singing and performing was not so easily left behind.
“I kinda failed my last semester,” she admits, sheepishly. “I was juggling music, but I figured I couldn’t quit law school. I had to repeat one subject. It was one paper that I failed, but my professor said I had to do the whole semester again. So I had a lot of time because I only had one class a week. So that’s when I would work on my music some more, and then study, and then work on my music some more, and then study.”
Even after graduation, and with her efforts refocused on forging an identity as a working musician, Yuna never dreamed how far her craft would take her. That is, until Indie-Pop label manager Ben Willis came calling, offering her a chance to move to Los Angeles and pursue music full-time.
At first, Yuna wasn’t inclined to leave her friends and family behind, and ignored the offer outright. It was her mother who pushed her to make the jump, replying to Willis’ string of comments on the young musician’s Facebook.
“I didn’t think I wanted to go to America,” Yuna recounts. “I didn’t know who this guy was. But my mom responded. That’s how it started. My parents were really supportive. They were like, ‘Just go, nobody else will get this opportunity.’ I had one month to decide on something that would change my life! ‘Do I stay or do I go? I guess I’m going to go.’”
posted by Staff