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Yunalis Mat Zara'ai, professionally known as Yuna is a Malaysian singer-songwriter and businesswoman. Born and raised in Kedah, she began writing songs at age 14. She soon taught herself to play guitar, and by 2006, in need of a creative outlet while attending law school, performed for an audience for the first time. Yuna offered her music on her MySpace page, which went on to net over one million plays. This online success tipped off the Indie-Pop label/management company to her music, and in early 2011 she signed with the Fader label.
Joined by guitarist Pa'an, bassist Efry Arwis, and drummer Adib Azfar (and later, Adil Ali), Yuna made her recorded debut album in Malaysia in 2008 with a self-titled EP, which went on to snag five Malaysian Music Awards nominations (the Malaysian equivalent of the Grammy). She took home four trophies, including Best New Artist and Best Song (for the breakout hit "Dan Sebenarnya").
The Decorate (EP) followed two years later (and was released stateside in spring 2011). Decorate included the viral hit "Rocket," which won raves from Billboard magazine, indie rock radio station KEXP, and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, as well as ink in SPIN's Eight Bands You Need to Hear Now. On the performance end, Yuna was nominated as one of MTV Iggy's Best New Bands in the World in 2011, and she marked the occasion by playing at the historic MTV Studios.
Yuna rang in 2012 with a new single, "Live Your Life", produced by Pharrell Williams as a preamble to her self-titled full-length debut, which arrived that April. Summer 2012 found Yuna sharing the Lollapalooza stage with the likes of Florence + the Machine, Jack White, and Childish Gambino. In 2013, Yuna returned with the album Nocturnal, featuring the single "Falling." In February 2016, Yuna previewed her third album with the release of "Places to Go," a single produced by hip-hop legend DJ Premier. The full album, Chapters, was released three months later.
Early life and education
Yunalis Mat Zara'ai was born on 14 November 1986 in Alor Setar, Kedah, Malaysia to parents from Perak. Her father, Dato' Mat Zara'ai bin Alias is the current legal advisor of Mahkamah Tinggi at Johor Bahru and her mother is a retired high school chemistry teacher.
Yuna attended SMK USJ 4 Subang Jaya, Selangor, where she completed her secondary education. After that, Yuna attended Universiti Teknologi MARA in Shah Alam, where she studied legal studies at its Faculty of Law. In 2009, she graduated with a Bachelor of Legal Studies (Hons.) degree.
2001–06: Early commercial success
During her tertiary studies, Yuna was involved in the music scene. Yuna was once an independent Malaysian singer-songwriter. She began writing her own songs when she was 14 years old, and her first performance of her own songs was at the age of 19, after she learned how to play guitar. She has performed in numerous acoustic shows and events in many parts of Malaysia since 2006. The same year, she auditioned for the first season of One in a Million, making it to the top 40 round before she got cut from the competition.
2011–2012: Early international breakthrough
Yuna was eventually discovered in the US by the Indie-Pop record label and management company. They flew out to Malaysia to convince her to sign with them and then proceeded to get her a deal with Fader Label, a record label based in New York, in February 2011. She released her debut US EP, Decorate, in the United States in March the same year.
One of the first few people who expressed interest in her music was Farhan Fadzlishah aka Pa'an (Telephony Delivery), who later became her supporting guitarist. Along the way, Efry Arwis (Lightcraft) helped her with the bass while Adib Azfar handled the drums. Adil Ali (Seven Collar T-shirt) replaced Adib Azfar after the latter quit to concentrate on his drumming role in Oh Chentaku. Yuna performs with her band when she is not active in acoustic gigs.
On 24 January 2012, her single "Live Your Life" debuted on iTunes. The track was produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Pharrell Williams. MTV Iggy described the track as, "polished until it gleams but instead of burying Yuna, it lifts her up. The track has hints that a diva is waiting to shine." On 16 February 2012, the official music video for "Live Your Life" was released.
On 24 April 2012, Yuna's US debut self-titled album was released. Debuting at No.23 on the Pop chart and No.86 on the Top 100 Albums on iTunes, Yuna was also No.23 on Billboard's Heatseekers Chart. Accolades from fans and critics alike, such as Billboard, NPR, Elle, NY Times, Vibe Claire and National Geographic, who raves that her sound is "as fresh, honest and deeply personal as anything by Bon Iver or tUnEyArDs," have been rolling in.
She performed "Live Your Life" on late-night TV shows Conan and Last Call with Carson Daly. She was featured on the CBS Evening News in a featured profile piece and toured with Graffiti6 with stops at Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. She also contributed to the Savages soundtrack on the track, Here Comes the Sun.
Yuna's meteoric rise in the Malaysian indie music scene is largely due to the strong following she gained via Myspace. Having played at many gigs since the release of her Demo, EP and then two local albums, she is now focusing on promoting and performing music on her debut US Album. Yuna also will be a part of Lollapalooza 2012 line up.
In 2008, she released her self-titled EP which become a massive hit in Malaysia most notably the single 'Deeper Conversation'.
Yuna was the first runner-up of MTV Iggy's Best New Bands in the World. She performed at the historic MTV Studios in Times Square New York singing "Decorate", "Come As You Are", "Lullabies" which is produced by Chris Braide and her new single "Live Your Life", which is produced by Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D.
Yuna recently signed with Verve Music Group. Multiple Grammy-winning producer David Foster, who heads the creative operations of Verve, tweeted: "I'm really excited about the next hot artist to join Verve Music. Stay tuned and keep an eye out for Yuna in 2013".
Charted in Heatseekers Album on Billboard "Live Your Life".
In 2012, Yuna was recognised with a National Youth Icon Award, awarded by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, for her exceptional achievements in arts.
In December 2014, Yuna released the song "Broke Her" as a single. It features a sample of Drake's 0 to 100.
On 31 January 2015, Yuna performed in the closing ceremony of 2015 AFC Asian Cup.
In June 2015, she has been appointed as Malaysia's tourism adviser to boost tourist arrivals in the country alongside with Datuk Siti Nurhaliza and Jimmy Choo.
Yuna recorded the song Strawberry Letter 23 by singer Shuggie Otis used in a commercial for Swedish fashion retailer H&M starring Ukrainian-Canadian model Daria Werbowy that aired in March 2015.
Yuna possesses a light lyric soprano voice. She once described her music as "a cross between Mary Poppins and Coldplay". She explains about this characterization of her musical style, "I can't believe people still hold onto that! It was a quote that I had on, like, my MySpace music page seven years ago. But yeah, what I meant to say is I like to incorporate a lot of different genres in my music, and, you know, having a sense of honesty and sincerity in the lyrics as well. But I'm still pop at the same time."
Yuna has cited Coldplay, Bob Dylan, and Feist as influences, having been introduced to them by her father. Growing up in Malaysia, she listened to a lot of The Cardigans, Fiona Apple, and Garbage.