Yuna Zarai: The Muslim Pop Star and Artist

What will be your reaction, when you see a pop star with a Muslim headscarf in live concert? Well this is Yuna Zarai, a Malaysian singer-song writer who has reached main stream success with her soulful R&B that has a touch of acoustic folk and contemporary pop. With her unpolished and unconventional style, she has become the poster girl for hijabsters. Yuna started playing guitar at local music cafes in her now famous hijab, a Muslim head scarf.


Yunalis Mat Zara’ai was born in Kedah, Malaysia, her father is a legal advisor and her mother is a chemistry teacher. She has a bachelor degree in legal studies. Yuna started writing her own songs when she was just 14 years, she learned guitar and her first performance was at the age of 19. She had performed in various events and shows prior to giving audition for the show “One in a Million”, Malaysia’s own version of American Idol. She made it to the top 40, before being eliminated.

She was contacted by a US based indie-pop record label and management company. She signed a deal with Fader label, a record label based in New York. She released her EP the same year. She has worked with stars like Pharrell Williams, her single “Live Your Life” was in fact produced by him. She became one of the few artists from Malaysia to achieve such success in America.  The official music video was released a month later. She got critical acclaim from critics like Billboard, NPR, NY times, Elle etc. In 2012, she got the National Youth Icon Award for her exceptional work in music and arts in Malaysia. Right now, she is one of the biggest music stars in Malaysia.

Yuna is not only a successful artist, but she is also a successful entrepreneur. She is founder of women’s boutique, November Culture, which is an online clothing line. Her boutique sells clothes that are modest and aligned to her faith. Yuna is passionate about culture, which she embodies in her clothing line; she wants to show case her culture and tradition to the world.

In spite of all those critical acclaim, she gets attention from the International media as a pop star wearing a Hijab, which she says is a negative connotation.  She considers herself as a Muslim singer songwriter who follows Islam. She believes everyone has their own beliefs and way of doing things. She talks about how people were not used to the idea of Muslim pop star, and how people were calling her the “Poster Girl” for new generation of Malaysian women. She wants her music to be the talking point, not her hijab. Her combination of Muslim head scarf and jeans has made her an icon for teenage Muslim girls. She is a musician and a cultural force which can remove stereotypes about Muslims and Islam as  a religion. A columnist for a Malaysian news website described the phenomenon ignited by Yuna as a “feminist awakening“. For young Muslims, Yuna is a role model, a young successful woman who is also a practicing Muslim.


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