NO FADING FLOWER
YUNA IS MAKING HER MARK IN WORLD MUSIC, EXPERIMENTING WITH ASIAN SOUNDS
Malaysian born, Los Angeles-based singersongwriter Yuna has a couple of extra reasons for being excited about making her Australian performance debut at this year’s OzAsia Festival. “I think the last time I was there I was probably 12 years old,’’ Yuna says from a bustling cafe in the US music industry capital.
“I actually went to Perth with my family for a holiday, so I have a lot of good memories from Australia, but it will be my first time in Adelaide.’’
One of the songs on Yuna’s first international album, Fading Flower, was co-written with former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian.
“I understand that he’s from Adelaide, too,’’ Yuna says. “When you’re in LA you just bump into each other. Someone would know someone else, and that’s how it all happened.”
Yuna knew of Sebastian’s work from hearing it played on air in Malaysia.
“I was really familiar with Guy Sebastian, because he was born in Malaysia, and he was based in LA at the time,’’ she says.
“My manager got in touch with his manager, and then we got into the studio together.
“It was really, really cool and he’s such a sweet guy and I was really excited to be working with him.’’
The OzAsia Festival will also mark a reunion for Yuna with fellow Malaysian musician Guba, who will play in the same venue on the same two nights.
They previously recorded a duet together called You’re So Fine.
“He’s a really talented singer-songwriter and I’m really excited to share the stage with him. I can’t to see him again.’’
Yuna began performing her own songs on guitar at 19 and gained a huge following on MySpace, singing in both English and Malay, releasing a number of demos, an EP and two independent albums.
She was discovered by the Indie-Pop management company, who convinced her to move to the US and got her a deal with the Fader label, which released her self-titled album last year. It included the single Live Your Life, produced by Grammy Award-winner Pharrell Williams.
Now 26, she is working on her second album after shifting to the prestige Verve label, on which she has just released another EP called Sixth Street.
“It’s obviously like a new beginning for me,” she says. “Verve is a really legendary label,
“I’m so blessed and thankful that they were interested in my music and in signing me. Right now I’m just really working hard and writing music.’’
Yuna travelled a lot as a child, and went to school in Italy when she was 16.
“I had a period of time when I was living in a really small town in Malaysia, then I grew up in the city, so I’m really used to adapting to different situations, different surroundings and different environments.’’
Even so, moving to the US as a “complete unknown” and living away from her parents was “a little bit scary’’.
“But I adjusted really well – I’m not really a party girl, I’m really focused with my work.’’
To date, Yuna’s music bears more semblance to Western indie pop than traditional Asian influences. Her father plays guitar, piano and drums, and her mother sings “a little bit’’, but none of her family has performed professionally before.
“I listen to a lot of different kinds of music,” she says. “My dad used to listen to a lot of rock music, I listen to a lot of jazz music, my mum listens to a lot of oldies – ’60s classics.
“Growing up, I listened to lot of bands like The Cardigans and No Doubt, and singer-songwriters like Fiona Apple and Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette … and also Lauryn Hill and R’n’B hip-hop artists. “You would hear all these influences in my music.’’ After three years in the US, Yuna says she is gaining confidence to put her ideas forward to producers and wants to introduce more Asian sounds.
“For this album I was really excited to try something new, which was more traditional Malaysian instruments,” she says.
“These are the things that I feel a lot of people don’t know about, so I really wanted to experiment with them more.
“My goal was trying to find a traditional sound, but making it pop.
“For example, the Malaysian instrument the angklung, which is made from bamboo. The sound is really cool and exotic and different, and you can interplay that with radio pop music.
“That was something I always wanted to do.’’
Yuna performs at the Space Theatre on September 13 and 14 as part of the OzAsia Festival. Book at BASS.
Yuna will make her Australian debut in Adelaide