Two weeks after playing at the 2012 Bonnaroo Music Festival, Yunalis Zarai aka Yuna arrived at Amoeba Music in Los Angeles Tuesday night (Jun. 26) for a performance of songs off her self-titled debut album. Stepping onto the stage wearing a black frock and a purple headscarf — her signature — the Malaysian singer-songwriter looked visibly surprised by the people slowly filtering into the record store’s crowded rows.
“Thank you so much for coming,” she told the audience. “I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t think anyone was going to come.”
The crowd assured her otherwise, screaming “I love you!” and the occasional “Go Yuna!” in her direction. The 25-year-old singer appeared overwhelmed by the proclamations of love, laughing awkwardly and focusing on tuning her guitar instead.
But as soon as she transitioned into the first song of her acoustic set, Yuna drowned out the shuttering cameras and filming iPads with the opening chords to “Island.” She showed no sign of nerves as she played alongside her accompanying guitarist, closing her eyes and strumming her guitar as if by muscle memory, beckoning the audience to “open up your heart to me”.
“I’m from Malaysia,” she said dreamily as she transitioned to “Decorate”, the first song recorded for her EP and her personal favorite. “And now I’m singing here for all of you.” The breakup track was her strongest offering of the evening — graceful, natural, and faithful to the record.
During “Live Your Life”, her current single, Yuna didn’t let the slower pace keep her from having fun; she danced and bobbed along as much as she could manage on her stool, nodding at audience members and empowering them with lyrics such as “find your light / don’t hide from what you are”.
From there, she set aside her guitar for her Pharrell-produced track “Bad Idea.” Describing it as a fun song with an “island-y kind of feel,” she picked up a ukulele and admitted to the crowd that it was her first time performing it live with the instrument. “I hope I don’t suck,” she worried out loud, but her fears were put to rest the cheers of encouragement emanating from the audience.
Before ending her set, Yuna asked the audience if it would be ok if she performed a traditional Malay song (she’s from Malaysia after all), which she described as a breakup track, one about looking and singing to the moon about a boy she missed. It was, unsurprisingly, the happiest she had been all night, grinning widely and staring out into the crowd as she crooned along in her native language. And more than anything, it was a reminder that in spite of the unbelievable year she’s already had, she was still an island girl at heart.
“Live Your Life”
“Come As You Are”
“Dan Sebenarnya” (Traditional Malaysian song)
— By Daniel Taroy