Yuna celebrated her engagement to Malaysian director Adam Sinclair this past weekend. The LA-based hijab-wearing singer feted her upcoming nuptials on Saturday at her family’s home in Malaysia. Surrounded by blooming pastel-colored flowers, they exchanged poems and gifts as per tradition. Her blue lace dress was designed by Hatta Dolmat, while her decor was created by Reka Teemor. Experience the traditional Malay engagement with Adam and Yuna in the video below.
Read on for Caterina Minthe’s interview with Yuna from the July/August issue of Vogue Arabia.
Usher sings on Yuna’s track, “Crush”
She smiles when she sings. Even in the black and white video for “Crush” – from third album, Chapters – Yuna appears to emanate rainbow-colored happiness and serenity. She is dressed in a buttoned-up denim shirt, leather Perfecto jacket, and turban. In comparison to most contemporary R&B singers’ outfits, hers is shockingly conservative. Rather than gyrate provocatively and twerk in the music video, Yuna stands against a pillar or sits on stairs and sings. Her appearance invites one to turn their focus to the music. The frame cuts to Usher. He, too, is grinning ear to ear. One can assume that the man responsible for signing Justin Bieber somehow knew that this video would be seen 30 million times and counting.
Malaysian Yunalis binti Mat Zara’ai, 30 years old, is nothing short of a sensation. First comes her undeniable talent for singing and songwriting. Second, her confident sense of style, where the hijab is worn as the Muslim R&B singer’s signature. “People were surprised about my collaboration with Usher,” she says. “That’s because when I meet someone famous, I’m not the type to rush and take a photo and put it on social media. I develop a proper friendship.” Yuna grew up listening to Usher – along with Frank Sinatra, No Doubt, Lauryn Hill, and Alicia Keys – and serendipitously got to know him over conversations about social issues and charities [Yuna supports Islamic Relief Worldwide]. “He’s super cool, and anyway, LA is really small,” she says, in a failed effort to normalize the union.
Regardless of her success – Rolling Stone deemed Chapters one of the best R&B albums of 2016 – she considers that building her career in music has been a slow process.“I started singing and songwriting when I was 19 and my friends encouraged me. None of my family members were in the music industry. My mom was a chemistry teacher and my dad was a judge.” Yuna studied law, until the response to her Malay and English songs uploaded to her MySpace page became impossible to ignore. She moved to Los Angeles at 23 and released her first American-produced studio album. “When I got here, I felt like people appreciated my presence,” she recalls. Referring to her hijab,“They were very welcoming of someone different,” she says. “And I could write music. I could sing. I met with a few labels and I got to pick who I wanted to work with.” Yuna signed with Verve Records at the time when its creative department was headed by David Foster, former stepfather of Gigi and Bella Hadid.
Yuna asserts that fashion plays a big role in her life and heralds the headscarf as her power piece. “I wear it in different ways: like a turban, a traditional hijab, or draped in a gypsy style. It makes my outfit complete,” she says. In 2015, Yuna launched November Culture (named after her birth month), an online retail store carrying modest skirts, dresses, pants, and headscarves. The following year, Japanese brand Uniqlo chose her to be the face of its second modest fashion line, launched in Spring 2016. For the Fall 2017 Mara Hoffman show in New York, Yuna “walked with a purpose” on the catwalk in a salmon-colored shirt suit and matching turban. The show opened with remarks from the co- founders of the Women’s March in Washington. Yuna ruminates, “Being a feminist, it’s not just about looking out for your own interests. You have to focus on making lives better regardless of your gender. Display an act of kindness, everywhere you go. When I was younger, I looked after myself but I get it now – you have to support your sisters.”