Photo: Jeff Min

Organized by the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), the 15th annual Takin’ It the Streets Fest in Chicago is one of the few celebrations where music takes a definitive backseat to social politics.

Across the modest grounds of Marquette Park were areas where prayer was not only permitted, but highly encouraged – with adhans being announced regularly throughout the day – It was clear what mattered most, and it extended deep into the heart of the festival.

Of the headliners it was Malaysian-born singer-songwriter Yuna that held the largest appeal. She’s a mainstay at the Malaysia Music Industry Awards, (the Malaysian equivalent to the Grammys) and her arrival created a palpable buzz. Shouts of “Yuna we love you!” began well before she made her way on stage.

She greeted the crowd with a warm smile and jumped right into familiar waters. “Bad Idea” elicited a gentle roar with young teenagers singing in perfect unison: [LISTEN]

Her voice was sweet and gentle all the way through despite the mass crowd that had slowly accumulated. She didn’t try and overpower a song like “Lullabies,” instead staying in her lane and letting the quality of the writing do the work for her – just as good if not better than contemporaries like Au Revoir Simone or Regina Spektor: [LISTEN]

The banter with the crowd was unfortunately held to a minimum due in large part to poor planning on the festival’s behalf. Her performance was short, real short. Six songs in total which must have been a bit of a disappointment, especially for Yuna who had announced that she had flown all the way from Malaysia to be there.

Still her form didn’t waver at all, keeping intact a Sade level of grace at all times. What was most important – aside from the performance itself – was the way she embraced the crowd, radiating a genuine love and appreciation. She acknowledging them wholeheartedly, a fan base who shared the same dedication and faith as she did – a strong showing of the transcendent power of well written, quality pop music, giving her performance and a song like “Live Your Life” extra meaning: [LISTEN]