Malaysian Muslim singer Yuna making mark in U.S.

(CBS News) NEW YORK -- It's not easy for a Muslim singer/songwriter from Malaysia to go global.

But Yuna is trying.

She gave up a comfortable life in her native country and moved to Los Angeles.

And she's been busy ever since.

Now, she's hit the road and discovered that her music transcends language and religion.

The 25-year-old, whose full name is Yuna Zarai, has already built an international following.

Her debut album just hit the U.S. charts. The self titled CD is gaining critical acclaim all over the world.

Her Facebook page has well over a million fans.

But Yuna is not your typical pop star.

She says people know who she is when she walks down the street in Malaysia. She's a household name in her home country, where she's the face of Canon, Samsung and Oil of Olay.

But Yuna, who wears the hijab head scarf of her Islamic faith, wanted more.

"I don't want to be comfortable. I want to do something else," she says. "I want to create something new."

So the Muslim singer from the Far East is trying to build a career in the West/

She admits there's not exactly a road map for someone in her situation, saying, "I never had anyone to, like, ask about stuff. ... So I just had to figure everything out on my own."

She also holds a law degree.

And when an American label made an offer, she moved to L.A.

Yuna concedes that, "I guess, at some point, you know, you have to be worried" about the cultural differences.

They've been a problem at home.

In February, Eryakuh Badu, an American singer Yuna admires, was barred from performing in Malaysia because the Arabic word for "Allah" painted on her shoulder was deemed an "insult to Islam."

"I think it's very unfortunate," Yuna observes.

How does she balance her devotion to Islam with being a musician, a pop star?

"I have beliefs and I have religion just like everybody else," Yuna says. "But at the same time, I'm just a normal girl. I write music, I play music. And I sing."

She learned to sing in English by listening to her parents' Beatles records.

Yuna said with a laugh that, if her career goes the way she dreams for it to, "I win Grammys!"

She's out to prove that it is a small world, after all.

  • Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"

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