Lullabies is a beguiling introduction to the singer known as Yuna. It’s the opening track on her debut self-titled album and it draws you in, just as her gaze upon the album cover does. In reminiscing about the disappointment of a first love, Yuna’s voice soothes and comforts those who relate to her lyrics.
Known to family and friends as Yunalis Zarai, she was born in Malaysia 25 years ago, and while her Malay-Muslim heritage may make her stand out, her lyrics draw on universal experiences. Yuna sings of love – the kind at first sight, the kind that goes unreciprocated, the kind that’s naively loyal, the kind that tries to survive distance. With lines like: I decorate my house / with things you love / just in case you show up, and Does your name rhyme with mine? Yuna owns up to those thoughts that so many of us have had in the name of love.
I saw her perform a too-short set at SOB’s on Thursday night. She is somewhat shy on stage, and there is a delicate aura around her that seems innocent, yet at the same time knowing. It’s on show when she picks up an electric guitar to play a song, and most certainly in the bright pink wedges she’s wearing.
Her biography lists the likes of No Doubt, The Cranberries and Tori Amos as influences. And you’ll hear many others too – a touch of Fiona Apple, a slight hint of Norah Jones, some Sarah MchLachlan even, a bit of Erykah Badu. But she has a unique voice, one that will soon become much more recognizable, given her foray now into the North American music world.
I’ve got a feeling, you’re gonna remember my name, she sings, on Track 3 of her debut. But Yuna doesn’t have to rely on heavy braggadocio to get the message across. She’s got her voice, warm and assuring, and her songs, to take care of that.
There was a piece in Sunday’s New York Times about why women in Afghanistan are prepared to risk death just to be able to write poetry, and to share it with others, as art asks of us to do. Without simplifying the issues at hand, it made me grateful for those feelings of heartache and confusion that sometimes come from love. They may be uncomfortable to experience, but to be able to have these feelings, to share them freely and without fear of reproach for having them, is a privilege I am content to have. These women aren’t as fortunate.
And so I think of Yuna, who sings of love, and life. And following your dream.