When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Yuna had returned to Malaysia, initially for a short two-week trip.
But then everything changed.
What she had not known at the time was just how severe the situation would turn out to be in the proceeding months. With the lockdowns, multiple MCOs, and the introduction of a 'new normal' littered with SOPs, the singer-songwriter was unable to return to the US where she had made her base of operations for the past few years.
Now back in the family home from where she first made a name for herself more than a decade ago, Yuna took the challenges all in stride musically, releasing single after single despite having to work with her collaborators mostly over Zoom.
It was not all smooth sailing for her though, after a close relative's bout with COVID-19 made her reassess her approach in dealing with the pandemic, and spurred her to take action and spread awareness on the importance of adequate home-care as first resort.
In collaboration with the Malaysian Red Crescent Society (MRCS), Yuna helped launch an online awareness campaign – called #Oxydrive – to raise funds to provide oximeters to vulnerable communities. With a vast majority of those stricken with the virus now no longer requiring hospitalisation, the campaign comes at a time when home-based care is at its most essential.
In an exclusive interview with SAYS, she sat down with us to talk about her collaboration with the Malaysian Red Crescent Society, the #Oxydrive campaign, and what she hopes for the future
SAYS: Hello Yuna! Can you tell us a bit about the #Oxydrive campaign and what it's all about?
Yuna: The campaign is to raise funds to get oximeters to less fortunate families. In my case, I can afford to buy a couple for my friends and relatives, but not everyone has this same privilege.
I noticed a lot of people on social media were inadvertently buying the cheap ones online, where the efficacy is suspect at best. That's when I thought, it's important for me to partner up so we can get even more oximeters to as many people as possible.
We are raising funds for that, and then eventually transitioning to proper comprehensive home-care kits.
SAYS: How and why did you get involved? Is there a personal equation to the matter for you?
Yuna: Well even before all of these variants, my family and I took every precaution. We rarely go out, we take care of our SOPs, and we even sanitise everything that comes in the mail. I would be very selective with jobs that I take on, not stepping onto a production that doesn't have a medic on site. But then it all changed when my cousin Amilya actually got COVID-19.
It all happened so quick, she passed away only nine days after being diagnosed, and I think we were all a bit late to respond to her symptoms. She was already vulnerable to the virus as she had a failing kidney, which required constant dialysis on her own. But one of the last things that I talked to her about were oximeters, and the need to monitor your oxygen levels.
After reading up about it, then I realised just how much of an impact these little devices could have. When my aunt got COVID-19 after caring for Amilya, we knew exactly what to do. And because of the oximeter, we got her to the hospital in time, and even though she got diagnosed as Stage 4, she managed to beat it.
When I first talked about oximeters on Twitter, this American said how could I not have known about it? I thought, I may be Yuna, but that doesn't mean I know everything.
I felt 'terkilan' about the whole thing, because I wasn't able to do that for my cousin, and I was really heartbroken. I don't want people to go through the same ordeal, so that's when I started being vocal about the importance online. People started responding to my tweets, and saying how because of it they went out and bought oximeters for their family, their neighbours, even their whole kampung (laughs).
But it was definitely emotionally draining for me, because I'm still going through grief myself, and I was not able to help out in the way that I want to. And that's when the Malaysian Red Crescent reached out to me, and I thought let's do it together! We can get a wider reach this way.
So that's how it all started, and it's definitely now a passion of mine. My friends even call me the oximeter Oprah! I don't care if talking about it so much makes me look uncool on social media, that's fine. Because this is real life, you know?
SAYS: I think it's amazing that you're honouring Amilya's legacy in this way. The best thing we can do is to make sure no one else has to go through these kinds of harrowing experiences. On that note, what can everyday Malaysians do to help raise awareness?
Yuna: I think you should just keep talking about it. In my case, I had no idea about oximeters until then, and I'm on Twitter all the time, you know? And I was kind of embarrassed that I didn't, but it's never too late to learn something new and take precautions against COVID-19.
When people share about their personal experiences online, like those who lost loved ones, or mothers who don't survive childbirth because of the virus, that gives people an emotional anchor to how serious this situation really is.
We need to be more vigilant about our own measures to fight back the pandemic, and not just rely on whatever SOPs are released. We need to be doing more. If you need to go out, take every precaution, and make sure everyone around you are keeping safe.
SAYS: Aside from donating to this campaign, how else can Malaysians help each other out to fight this pandemic?
Yuna: I think the #KitaJagaKita and White Flag movements are great moves. And nowadays there are so many apps that Malaysians made that people can just fill in a form and receive the help that they need, which I think is brilliant. I'm really proud that a lot of us, especially the younger generation, are taking the driving seat in these initiatives because we're more tech savvy.
Especially with the less fortunate, they might not have access to such facilities, so I also vouch for those helping out offline and making a difference in these difficult times. For example, my aunt's neighbours sent over coconut water when they heard she tested positive, even though she lives in a high rise apartment! Which I thought was very nice.
The little things really do matter, like helping them out with groceries, bringing up their food to them, just finding out who needs help and providing it to them is so, so important. And that's one thing about being Malaysian that I'm most proud about. We were raised to care about our neighbours, whereas in the US people might be more individualistic.
SAYS: How have the MCOs been for you? How did you keep yourself busy at home?
Yuna: Well, you know, you just find things to do (laughs). Like I bought security cameras for my dad, naw I'm just kidding. What I did mostly was reconnecting with my family members, to be honest. I moved out when I was 19 years old, and this is the longest I've been home since then.
I was very lucky and blessed to be able to spend time with Amilya before she passed, and I will always cherish our final conversations. I was actually only planning on being in Malaysia for two weeks, but close to two years later here I am doing this interview with you (laughs).
I've also been working on my music. I'm now an independent artiste, and unsigned to any labels, so I have that freedom to explore what I want when I want with the guidance of my management in the US. I've been "working from home", you know, setting up my own studio with whatever is lying around and the help of my friends loaning me their gear.
Of course, I will eventually have to go back to Los Angeles to collaborate with producers over there, but with what we're going through right now, I managed to do most of my work over Zoom.
I released a single Stay Where You Are on the first day of quarantine, and also another song called Invisible, which was recorded in this very room. And my newer track Dance Like Nobody's Watching, part of that was recorded here too, and my latest effort Don't Blame It On Love featuring Pink Sweat$, which was a huge project for me.
Some people struggle with the transition, and I feel for them, but you just have to make it work. Of course, I miss touring and meeting my fans, but it's impossible when there's such a risk of getting the virus. It's scary, as I think I have plenty left to give as an artiste on tour, but you need to have a positive attitude.
SAYS: A lot of artistes make their living mostly on these sources of income, especially here in Malaysia where many are truly struggling to make ends meet. What advice would you give to all your fellow artistes here and beyond?
Yuna: Please keep going. Whether you're new, or already an established name, never give up. In my case, over the last 10 years, I kept releasing music and building my brand to what it is because of perseverance. I was so lucky to be able to work with artistes that I admire and respect, but it all started with bedroom efforts uploaded onto my Myspace page.
Of course in this pandemic, people can get burnt out, so if you need to take a break do it for yourself. But take like a month, then get straight back on it. In this social media age, with Spotify and everything, it's much easier to get your work out there than ever before. Think of yourself in five years, "In five years time, where do I see myself?" If the answer is making music, then never ever give up.
Before I moved to the US all those years ago, people were telling me "oh Yuna, you're crazy, you're never going to make it" and stuff like that. But for me, I saw it as an opportunity, you know? You need to know where to find the right avenues for you, and if you take the risk, you never know where you might end up.
Okay well, you all don't believe me, so I'll go somewhere else lah!
SAYS: This pandemic has really made us reassess our priorities, and especially for you with Amilya's passing and having to work remotely. With that in mind, what is the first thing you want to do when this is all over? Would that answer have been different last year?
* At this point in the interview, Yuna's husband, filmmaker and director Adam Sinclair walks into the room to hand her a plate of keropok lekor. CUTE! *
Yuna: I've been a workaholic for more than a decade, and I haven't taken any real breaks, so I was so eager to just get back to work as soon as I can. Even after I got married in 2018, the honeymoon was only five days! But today in 2021 I see things a lot more differently.
When this pandemic is over, I will get back to work proper, but also I want to achieve a more balanced lifestyle. I want to eat better, exercise better, and sleep better definitely. I'll still go on tour and play shows and stuff, but when I'm not I definitely want to be in Malaysia more. Perhaps even find a way to make it work full time musically. I mean, Lorde is based in New Zealand and she makes it work! (laughs)
More specifically I think I might go to Nepal or somewhere similar to just be anonymous and enjoy life. To go somewhere with my husband and just take a long break. When I first flew back to Malaysia I was exhausted, but I didn't even realise it, because I was so busy.
I haven't even hugged my mom for more than year, because I'm so scared of having the virus and passing it to her, so I'm also going to give her a big hug like I'm six years old again!
"What is the point of going through all this and then being excited about going back to normal? You don't want to go back to the old you, you want to come out of this pandemic a better person."
SAYS: Do you have a message you would like to pass on to your fans? Perhaps any upcoming projects? The Rouge followup maybe?
Yuna: I just want to thank every single one of them for keeping up with me in this difficult time. It's hard nowadays with so many things going on, so I'm thankful that there are those who take the time out to ask me how I'm doing and things like that. My fans always look out for me, and I am eternally grateful.
Also thanks for constantly asking when new music is going to be released (laughs) because it's important! It gives me the drive to do better, to make more music. Also for believing in me since day one, and for getting what I was about even then. Moving away from Malaysia is a huge sacrifice, so I also want to thank you for your constant support.
I hope you all stay strong, keep on going, and never ever give up. We're almost at the end of the tunnel, there's light ahead. I'm going to go back to LA and give you all a damn good album!
My fans got on the ship with me, and they were like, okay, let's sail away. No turning back now, Yuna.
Help save a life by joining Yuna's call for aid with the Malaysian Red Crescent Society (MRCS)
The #Oxydrive campaign seeks to buy and distribute a minimum of 10,000 oximeters across Malaysia to those who need it most. This includes the provision of a comprehensive Home-Care Kit, comprising thermometers, masks, hand sanitisers and other identified essentials, which can be the difference between life or death for under-served, vulnerable communities.
On top of this, MRCS also seeks to provide access to less fortunate COVID-19 patients to receive proper monitoring and support via a campaign called #CovidHomeCare. This effort requires the deployment of trained volunteers to man crisis call centres, ensuring healthcare resources are allocated efficiently.
To donate to their cause, scan the DuitNow QR code on this post or alternatively you may bank in to the following:
Malaysian Red Crescent Society
Malayan Banking Union (Maybank)
Reference Note : 'MVPC'
Click here to find out more about how you can support the Malaysian Red Crescent Society