I first heard Yuna on the radio back in KL right when 'Dan Sebenarnya', her first single, was just released; twas a decent enough tune. However, at the time a truck load of these female 'singer-songwriters' were also enjoying some airplay as well, so her music never really quite struck out to me from under the smokescreen of the other mediocre stuff. So perhaps a primitive way to explain what I witnessed that night would be along the rather ignorant lines of 'Oh, it was the touch of America', or a casual 'Don't be fooled by her chaste gadis pintu sebelah look; she signed a deal with the devil!' But through them all - 20 melodic tales of this new girl in town and her mature musings, I have to admit that what I saw was something genuine. Something honest. Something that was actually pretty damn good.
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The evening started off rather modestly; young folks decked out in their best colours and slickest shoes standing around in dark corners enjoying a cigarette, the largest congregation of pastel-coloured headwraps, and children running amok to the aloof shepherding of tired parents. Let's just say Yuna’s got all sorts of demographics down. The Kallang Theatre was a chill enough venue that made this whole scene rather homely, like a quaint neighbourhood gig in the best sense possible. Inside the hall, however, did not share the same humility.
Extravagant walls of light with streaming visuals lined the back and the sides of the stage, which definitely appealed to ‘ooh… big lights!’ fellows in the crowd; you know who you are. This was exploited in full effect when the reveled The Stoned Revivals took to the stage, with trippy psychedelic patterns accompanying their unique brand of jazz-pop. The long-awaited reunion of the Singapore veteran rockers kicked off the night as the original lineup of Esam, Kamal and Syed Munir belt out their signature tunes with aplomb and relentless drive even after a hiatus of 2 years.
Diandra entertained the crowd next with her sugary-sweet melodies, although the nerves were visibly getting to her at certain points. Signed to Yuna’s record label Yuna Room Records, she had a pleasant voice, broadcast-ready good looks; basically a pop star in the making. What intimacy her set offered however was unfortunately plagued with some pitching issues and a rather noticeable tendency to anchor her hand on a chair or a mic stand as though clutching a lifebuoy for dear life lest be swept away by the open sea. The only inkling when she seemed to be having fun only came on her last song when the rest of her band started singing along, and she started loosening up and beamed with an unwavering smile; something I would’ve like to see more of.
But let’s cut to the chase: you clicked this article to read about Yuna, so enough dilly-dallying. The crowd got visibly more excited as each member steadily took to their respective stations one by one, before Yuna, dressed in a flamboyant blazer adorned with studs that shimmered in the light and her trademark multicoloured headwrap, marched out with a refreshing firmness, fixed on her role as storyteller for the night; a confidence that was perhaps yet to be realized when I first heard her over the radio years ago.
And that’s when I knew that shit was about to get real.
For the next hour and a half, everybody in that hall was treated to the victorious highs and the introspective lows of the Yuna’s deeply personal mindscape. You could see her strutting her stuff on stage, battle-hardened by her time wearing her heart on her sleeve for the Western crowd in the past year or so, but she still retains the sweetness of a girl next door from Malaysia, betrayed by the vulnerability that she lets out in some of her more private tracks. She also shared some of her little experiments with us, like a crowd-participating bit (in which we all failed miserably) and the spoken-word-and-song hybrid, ‘Fears and Frustrations’.
The heavy trip-hop beats was a clear marker of her more recent efforts from her eponymous US EP, as contrasted to a more folksy stripped back sound of her earlier works, but one thing that remained consisted throughout was the emotional maturity displayed in her words. From crowd favourites like ‘Decorate’ and ‘Island’, they reveal, and this I say at the risk of being vaguely pretentious, a girl who feels every moment to the fullest. Behind the coy smile, the dreamy sways, the flirtatious eyes; there lies a heart brimming with love and a mind well-equipped with just the right vocabulary to rightfully emote everything she has gone through.
“You left your things at my place/As if I have all this space, 'Cause you know I don't mind/Just come back when you think it's time." Tell me you won’t fall in love with that and I tip my bowler hat to your heart of stone with a 21-gun salute.
She’s come a long way; that I get. But how far she’s come to actually be able to win me over by just a song into her set, that I did not expect. And for all the believers and the non-believers that were converted over the course of her set, one guy got everyone’s sentiments right that night when he screamed out in the hall between her songs: “I love you Yuna.”