Malaysian singer-songwriter Yunalis Zarai sings here in the classic tradition of seafaring island people: the lyrics use the metaphors of water, swimming, and voyaging as an invitation to love. What is different about her words is that it is typically the male figure who approaches the woman, captured in the ‘island’ figure, and the invitation is for her to leave her safety, and be engulfed by the intemperate, vast, and living thing that surrounds her. Instead, Yuna’s words are aimed towards a boy, to whom she beckons.

And she is a headscarf-wearing, leather-jacket sporting Muslim. Yeah, the scarves are tied in knots that would make Erykah Badu take a deep breath.

Yuna sings with the heart-breaking, but sweet (without being saccharine) tonals that remind one of indie-pop singer Feist. Coastals all along the eastern and southern seaboards of Africa have familial, ancestral, and deep cultural ties to Muslims from the island nations of South Asia; in fact, looking at Yuna, I can hardly differentiate her face from mine, or that of many of my friends in Cape Town.

Although she has an unfortunate way of describing herself as a “cross between Mary Poppins and Coldplay,” we’ll put those dalliances down to youthful exuberance. Pharrell Williams just produced her new single, “Live Your Life”, and if he has anything to do with it, her sound will be catchy, her songs will have great hooks, but it won’t be arena-pop. She’s going to be big.

Further Reading