Malaysia’s music industry timeline can be divided into two periods: Before Yuna and After Yuna. The 30-year-old, whose full name is Yunalis Mat Zara’ai, isn’t the first young Malaysian woman to strum a guitar and sing original love songs on stage, or the first to move to the United States to try to make it big. But she is the first to do it in a hijab.
Yuna’s insistence on keeping her hair covered (these days, she’s more likely to wrap her hair in a turban) and her ambition in pursuing a very public image have made her a symbol of empowerment and a role model for young women, as well as a fashion icon. Last year, “
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Yuna is one of the young media influencers featured in the Innovation Group’s report: “The New Muslimah: Southeast Asia focus.” We caught up with her to ask about her relationship with her fans.
Do you see yourself as a role model for young women?
I hope so! I feel like as a woman, you can’t say no to that. I know my mom is a role model to a lot of her students and myself, so I hope to be just as strong and smart as she is. You have to have a purpose as a woman, so it’s nice when you work really hard and you try your best to be a good person, and people aspire to be just like you.
Your song “Rescue” is about a woman who doesn’t need rescuing. Fans have described this as a song about “Girl Power.” Do you consciously write songs about empowerment and personal independence?
Sometimes I do. When I walk into the studio and I feel good—for example, when I wrote Rescue—I felt like, yes, let’s write an anthem today! It was for my friends back home. They’re the bravest strongest women I know, so I wanted to write something about them.