It is difficult to categorise Yuna, and that is what made her OzAsia performance all the more intriguing and mesmerising.
It began with her beguiling appearance as she sauntered on stage at the Space Theatre in front of the already-assembled musicians, wearing a multi-coloured turban and metallic-blue, striped full-length gown with a simple lemon blouse over the top, all elegantly draped over her diminutive body. Images of Malaysia, the Caribbean and even the sub-continent were already swirling around.
He voice was melodic, pure and seemingly fragile through the early numbers, while delivering immense, effortless power as the band surged to provide a dramatic back-drop to the eclectic range of styles evident in the songs.
The themes were universal, with break-up songs, love songs and even a song dealing with bullying called “Remember My Name”.
Modern language inevitably finds its way into the lyrics of today’s younger performers. Yuna’s favourite song, “Coffee”, delivers a great example of this with the line: “I’m dreaming of you in hi-definition.” Another warns her boyfriend to lift his game if he wants her to stay, demanding: “Stop twitter-messaging all those other girls on your phone.” This is no girl to be messed with, as she makes it clear that even if he does change his ways, she might stay, but it also might just be too late.
Yuna’s on-stage persona is sheer charm as she delivers an infectious smile whenever not singing. She tastefully flirts with her audience, calmly sips at a water bottle between songs, adjusts the blouse when necessary, never being rushed and always keeping the audience enthralled. The publicity blurb warned that we would find it hard not to fall in love with Yuna. It was right.
The five-piece all-Malay band – two guitars, keyboard, bass and drums – delivered understated soundscapes, spanning delicate melancholy to full-throttle power, all perfectly controlled and unobtrusively delivered. Most songs were delivered in English, with three in Yuna’s native Malaysian language, Bahasa.
Apparently Yuna is also an accomplished instrumentalist on guitar, ukulele and Suzuki QChord (I’ll leave you to Google that one.) But on this occasion all that was left to the musicians, as the Malaysian-born and raised songstress, now resident in LA, concentrated on delivering her unique songs with vocals that soared effortlessly from the middle range to soprano and a perfectly controlled falsetto.
Her musical influences appear to include Norah Jones, Sade perhaps, Janis Ian and maybe Nellie Furtado, but that’s only to give you a reference point – Yuna is carving out her very own distinctive niche that really needs no comparison. I think there is little doubt we will be hearing more of her name in years to come.
It all came to an end far too quickly with stand-out songs “Live Your Life”, her initial breakthrough effort, and the latest single “I Wanna Go” from a new EP. Look it up on iTunes – you won’t be disappointed.
Yuna performed at the Space Theatre on September 13-14.
More OzAsia Festival coverage
Review: Meeting with Bodhisattva
Preview: The Light Surgeons’ Super Everything
Preview: Malaysian singer Guba
Preview: Leigh Warren and Dancers’ Not According to Plan
Preview: Yegam Theatre Company’s Extreme Jump!
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