Malaysian singer Yuna is far more than just a 'Muslim pop star'

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Marco Werman: Okay, so how big of a concern is a group like ISIS for young Muslims? Here’s the opinion of one.


Yuna Zarai: I’m a Malaysian Muslim and there’s probably 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, right? So, that’s not the way normal people think.


Werman: That’s Yuna Zarai. If you know her music already, you know her as Yuna. And there’s a pretty good chance you do know her music. Tunes like the Pharrell Williams-produced “Live Your Life.” “Don’t hide from what you are.” That’s sort of a mission statement for Yuna. She began writing songs at the age of 14, then landed a spot on Malaysia’s version of “American Idol,” a show called “One in a Million.” She only got to the top 40, and then was eliminated. If it hadn’t been for that show, do you think we’d know who you are today?


Zarai: Probably not. It was weird. When I went for that audition, I really wanted it. I remember I really wanted that opportunity to advance to the next round and I did not. I got so frustrated. I told myself “Well, this is not the end.” You know how far you could go, people know that you can actually sing, and I just thought to myself “Okay, well I’m just going to learn how to play the guitar and start writing actual songs.” That’s how it all started. From that moment on, I was just writing and writing and writing.


Werman: It paid off. She got noticed by a US record label and things just snowballed from there.  Recent attention in the US media, and The World doesn’t seem to be any exception, has focused on the fact that she is a popstar in hijab, which often leads to headlines like one in the newspaper LA Weekly back in May -- “The Muslim Popstar.” First of all, what do you think about that tag?


Zarai: Well, I’m not going to run away from the person that I am. It is what it is. I’m a Muslim singer-songwriter and I practice Islam, it’s my religion, it’s my belief, it’s normal. Everybody has their own thing, their own beliefs. It doesn't stop me from getting people listening to my music. It’s really overwhelming. It’s really cool to be able to go on tours and perform at these shows and have people from different walks of life and different backgrounds come together and listen to you sing, so it’s cool.


Werman: Another standout line from that article in LA Weekly was you talking about your audiences, the hijabi girls, the hip hoppers and the Asian-American boys.


Zarai: Because every time after I perform, I would tell them “Hey, there’s going to be a meet and greet, so let’s hang out.” So after every show, I just meet them and I see all these different people, it’s just so cool. I never expected that. Coming out here, II never expected to be well-received.


Werman: And she is well-received. She played in Boston just 8 months ago and was back again last night. The club was packed. Again.