Meet singer-songwriter and fashion entrepreneur YUNA in our Fall 2017 issue!
I did a lot of reading up on you, and I noticed not only are you a female activist, you are a Muslim female activist, and you promote modesty. It was interesting to me because I always wonder about men treating women differently, but women who maybe dress less modest ever treat you differently in the entertainment business?
It’s weird because moving out here I thought, “Well, I am a Muslim girl moving out here, and things aren’t going to be the same.” Where I am from is 90% Muslim so we practice our faith and live our lives. Out here is different, and I knew I might have to adjust and educate people on where I come from and how I practice my faith. I haven’t had anyone show any disrespect or prejudice towards me so far. I am really happy I haven’t come across like that. Even when I do the magazines and stuff like that, the managers have always been understanding and know I cover my hair and practice modesty. Other women have always been super supportive not just in the music industry but the fashion industry as well.
I was raised in Christianity and most everyone I knew was also Christian. I moved to south Florida for college and was introduced to such diversity. The suite I lived in my first year was me, a Catholic, a Hindu, and Muslim. It was an awesome learning experience. Are there any changes you wish you could make on how some people approach diversity or any questions you wish they were asking?
Maybe they should ask about the different ideas of having fun. I have some friends who go out on Saturday nights and they go out and get drunk and invite me to parties. Maybe I will show up, but by the end of the night, I leave because everyone is getting drunk. I don’t drink. I will have some people say things like, “Oh, come on, Yuna. Loosen up.” I wish people would just ask why I choose to stay sober. It’s an interesting conversation. I just like to have a clear mind and for my thoughts to be on-point and focused at all times. Just stuff like that. Stuff about living different lifestyles. Or maybe ask why I don’t do certain things. I have songs with male artists, but I never sing about things more than love. I would never sing about something sexual or get physical onstage. It doesn’t deal only with me being a Muslim girl. It’s just also my personality. It’s how I was raised. It’s a huge topic to cover, but people can ask me anything. I am always open to answer them. I do want to keep some things to myself like how I view certain things. As far as the modesty thing, I do get positive questions like, “Why do cover up?” “Why don’t you let your hair out?” “Why don’t you show skin?” I would be happy to answer those questions and help them understand it doesn’t come from oppression. People look at Muslim girls and think that, but we believe in modesty because we were brought up that way or we are comfortable wearing more clothes. Growing up, I did not wear the hijab. But when I wore short skirts, I didn’t like the way people looked at me, and I felt I wasn’t taken seriously. And with guys, I never really knew with them because they would approach the conversation sexually. I didn’t like it, and I didn’t appreciate it. Modesty is a way for me to find out if the relationship is sincere or genuine.
How do you think you not only empower others but empower yourself right now?
I get to know different women from different backgrounds. I have to admit, before moving out here, I was prejudice towards certain types of people. I didn’t know a lot of things. Moving out here to LA broadened my horizon by getting to know them and where they came from. I have friends out here who come from very religious families, like Mormon or Hindu. These kinds of women inspire me to be more understanding. Muslim women are kind of a popular topic. People try to understand Islam or Muslim women now. The spotlight is on us. People have a lot to say about Islam. Getting to know other women with different backgrounds and careers helps me to be a better person. In return, I hope they start to understand me and my background too. It’s a very different world we live in, and all you can do is try to hold onto your values and your traditions. It’s a very modern world, and I am still a very conservative girl. When I got engaged a month ago, I followed tradition, and a lot of people didn’t appreciate that. I try to stay true to myself through what I do and create a more positive environment for everyone. I want to live a positive environment, and I know everyone else does to.
How did November Culture start up, and may you explain how you came up with the name?
Well my birthday is on the 14th of November. I just liked the name. I wanted it to be personal but at the same time for everybody. It’s a store and kind of like a creative hub for everybody. I have a lot of friends in Malaysia who ask things like, “Where did you get that jacket or dress you are wearing?” You can find it at my store! I also have a terrarium store under November Culture called Tiny Forest Terrarium. It’s just a creative space where you can shop and hangout.
Looking at fashion, what’s the first thing you want to do when you start designing new clothing?
I just create a mood board of what I like. Obviously, I lean more towards modesty. But it can be something modern for everyone and not just Islamic garb. It’s not a huge dress that covers up everything. It can be shirts, jackets, jeans, and stuff I wear. I’m pretty sure a lot of people can relate to my style and not just girls who wear hijabs but other people in different backgrounds. Whether they practice modesty or not, they are welcome to enjoy my style. Right now, I am creating a new line for November Culture, and I want it to be simple, sleek, and classy. I am older now so I’m not into the bright colors and want something more mature. The style grows with me as well.
For those young women maybe nervous to wear their hijab, what’s some advice or maybe even some fun fashion tips for them?
Just have fun! You have to be comfortable with your personality. Whatever you put on after that, it’s already you. And with whatever you like, you just have to go for it. There’s a lot of fashion bloggers out there to look at. When I first started making music, there was maybe two people famous for being modest fashion bloggers. Now, they are everywhere. What I like to tell girls is be comfortable in your own skin. You don’t have to copy anyone else. You can find your special thing. You know your personality and what makes you different. Even with putting on makeup, you don’t have to do it like everyone else. You’re already special, and have fun with fashion!
Where do you pull a lot of your ideas from when designing new clothing?
Obviously, the internet, and I love fashion magazines. I love Vogue. Even when I was a little girl, I would cut out dresses and things I like to put on my notebook. I pull things when I am traveling in different cities. In New York, people are more sleek and simple. In LA, it’s more laid-back and bohemian. In London, things are clean cut. In Amsterdam, things are more boxy and symmetrical. I am really lucky I get to travel around the world a lot to take it all in and put it all together for one giant mood board for my collection.
Switching gears just a little bit, where do you pull ideas from when writing music?
It comes a lot from conversations. I had this conversation with my manager the other day about writing and diving deeper into the meanings of songs. I like to be honest in songs. It’s the best way to write songs. Once you show your vulnerability, people like that and know you just aren’t some popstar and singing about the surface of things. I like to sit down and talk to people who like to learn more about life. They have such a more intelligent view on life and the world. I get ideas from them. I sing about conversations or what my friends are going through like heartbreaks. I have gone through them myself but others experience them differently.
I like to sit down and talk to people who like to learn more about life. They have such a more intelligent view on life and the world. I get ideas from them.
Are there any major differences you’ve noticed between performing to people in the US and people from Malaysia?
There aren’t a lot of differences. With the music I make, I attract a lot of people like me. They are introvert but like to have fun. Sometimes I feel like the crowds in New York are the same as Malaysia. You have the big audiences and they are all excited. Except for the fact in America, I am able to gather people from different walks of life. In Malaysia, just Malaysian Chinese or Malaysian Indians come to the show. Here, it is a balanced mix of everybody with Asian, Muslim, Black, White, and Latinos. It’s really cool to see that in a crowd, and I haven’t seen that anywhere else.
Describe the feeling you felt when you first started working and producing in the US.
Wow, I was very excited. It is the same feeling I go into the studio now and when I create something from scratch. I remember the first time I was in the studio with my producer, Chris. He was doing something on his piano and I wrote lyrics to it. He made it into a whole production, and I have never heard something so full or have heard my voice like that. I just used to do everything in the studio with my friends. We would put everything together and then, hey, it’s a song. With my producer, we just kept building and adding things like strings and all of a sudden, I didn’t sound like a little girl. I sounded like I deserved to be here.
Are there any artists you want to work with in the future?
I would actually love to work with Coldplay. I’m a huge fan. I would love to work with Tyler the Creator and Frank Ocean.
What artists are on your daily playlist right now?
It depends. I listen to a lot of different things. Right now, I am listening to Tyler the Creator. I still listen to Frank Ocean. And Solange.
What can we expect in the next year from you?
I am currently writing and producing so I am excited about this album. It’s going to be a fun album. I will probably drop it next year in the middle of the year. I am trying to think of fun ways to roll this album out and the singles. I feel like I am at the peak of my creative process and feeling happy about it and no longer insecure. I used to worry about people liking what I put out, but now I am able to have fun with myself. I am happy I get to do that, and I hope people can get that from the album.
What skills and strengths do you have to bring to the table?
I think I could be a really good cook if I put my mind to it. Like if I really took the time for it. I can paint. Growing up, I love to draw and paint, and I can paint well. I am also very patient, and I know how to talk to people. I know how to make people very comfortable. Sometimes when I talk to someone famous, they have a wall. But with me, 30 minutes later, they are comfortable. I also feel like I know how to be humble even with everything going on for me.
What’s one thing you can’t go on tour without?
My laptop because I am constantly working. I am a busy person. I don’t just sing, I am running the store back home in Malaysia. I am the creative director of my own music career and fashion line. I also need my headphones when I travel or fly to drown everything else.
What’s one song you wish you wrote first?
“Video Games” by Lana del Rey. I feel like that’s something I could do and wanted to do. I could be a female singing over beat and orchestral strings, but she did it first.
PHOTOS ASHLEY KIM
STORY ELIZABETH STAFFORD
Originally published in Volume II, Issue No. 004 – Fall 2017.1 Love