Yuna Gives a Heartfelt Performance at City Winery

January 27, 2019 | By Olivia Oriaku, Photos by Cali Cardenas

Malaysian pop and R&B artist Yunalis binti Mat Zara’ai, known by her stage name Yuna, gave an intimate, heartfelt performance at City Winery on Jan. 26. Her show would be the first of two that night — her second performance also taking place at City Winery a few hours later. The talented singer, whose vocals touched audience members throughout night, grew up in Perlis, Malaysia and moved to Los Angeles, California once her music career started to take off. Yuna is currently on tour for her album Rouge, which both reflects on her identity as a global pop star, and pays homage to her home country of Malaysia. 


The show itself was laid-back, with concertgoers seated at tables that stretched all the way back to the venue’s entrance. Audience members munched on hors d’oeuvres and sipped drinks as they waited for Yuna’s show to start. The venue’s cozy atmosphere proved to be perfect for her performance, allowing people to feel more connected to her and her music.

Yuna photographed by Cali Cardenas.jpg
Yuna photographed by Cali Cardenas (1).j

Photos by Cali Cardenas

She started the night off with Does She, a track off of Rouge. The two other instrumentalists on stage — one on guitar, the other on keyboard and drums — complimented her impeccable vocals. Next was Castaway, another song off of Rouge that features Tyler, The Creator. While she sang, Yuna rattled a shaker, adding another musical element to the already captivating performance. 


After the track ended, Yuna told the audience that her next song would be an older one that she wrote when she first moved to Los Angeles. She hinted at its title by saying that it had been remixed into a popular EDM version and, to her surprise, used in a lot of snowboarding videos. The song was Lullabies. During her performance, Yuna’s smooth vocals layered beautifully over slow, melodic guitar riffs. 


Between songs, Yuna addressed the crowd. At one point, she gave a disclaimer that she would be talking a lot throughout her show, which caused the audience to erupt in cheers. Yuna went on to say that while she was writing Rouge, she wanted to be true to herself and her identity as a Southeast Asian Muslim woman working in the American music industry. Yuna spoke about how she comes from two different worlds, saying that there are some people in the West who do not understand who she is and where she comes from, and some people in the East, who have a lot to say about her career and what she is doing. Her song Likes, off of Rouge, dives into the issue of constantly being criticized by people but finding the strength to stay true to yourself nonetheless. The crowd clapped and wooed at the song’s sassy, clever, and powerful lyrics. 


Departing from Rouge, Yuna played Coffee, an oldie off of her 2011 EP Decorate. A couple of seconds after the guitarist started to play, Yuna paused and laughed with the audience, saying, “Wait, how does this go again?” She then effortlessly jumped back into the jazzy number — her crystal clear voice floating peacefully through the venue. Next was Decorate, a song off the same EP. Yuna admitted to using her friend’s story as inspiration for writing the piece. Though she loved the track, she said that she could never truly relate to it until her grandfather, who she was very close to, passed away. The song then took on a whole new meaning. She quoted a line from the song: “I decorate my house with things you love / Just in case you show up.” Yuna said that after her grandfather passed away, she returned to Malaysia and visited their house, only to find his newspapers and books still lying around their living space; his glasses, still resting on their coffee table; and his clothes, still neatly placed in his closet. As the song’s chorus built up, audience members seemed to hang on to every word.


Yuna played the vibey Forevoremore next, a track off Rouge. She said that the song was dedicated to the family and friends that she grew up with in Malaysia, whom she described as hard workers and lovers of life. As the song’s bass dropped, Yuna and her band’s silhouettes seemed to enlarge on the stage’s back display. Following was Tiada Akhir, a song in Yuna’s native language of Malay and also on Rouge. Before singing, she translated the song’s lyrics, enabling the audience to feel more connected to her performance despite the language barrier.


Later in the night, to the crowd’s amazement, Yuna confessed that her husband was somewhere in the audience. She said that the day of her show marked their wedding anniversary — a perfectly ironic introduction to Used to Love, a breakup song off of her 2016 album Chapters that features R&B artist Jhené Aiko. After the track ended, the stage lights shifted from a bright red to a soft pink, just as the first synthesized chords of the groovy Blank Marquee came on, another song on Rouge, featuring rapper G-Eazy.

Towards the end of her set, Yuna played a song that she said changed her life — the popular Crush, which features Usher. She ended with Best Love off of her album Chapters. The track’s punchy bassline and upbeat tempo left the audience in good spirits.