SYA, the Malaysian rapper without taboos who seduced Def Jam

(AFP) – Dark glasses and a leopard dress, Malaysian rapper SYA calls for the emancipation of women and cuts out stereotypes about Muslim women with a chainsaw in her pieces.

She is the first female artist from Southeast Asia to have signed with the American label Def Jam – that of superstars like Jay-Z, Rihanna, BTS or Justin Bieber, and her first single, “PrettyGirlBop”, evokes misogyny and tolerance in his predominantly Muslim country.

“I just want women to feel better about themselves,” SYA said, her long dark hair hanging loose.

“I don’t want to pretend to be someone else, just to line up with what society sees fit,” she explains in an interview with AFP.

The video of his piece, in which the popular Singaporean artist Yung Raja participates, shows SYA in a white suit stroking a cat with a pearl necklace, in a luxurious bedroom.

We then see her playing with a snake, and affirming “I want to be like me”, as a refusal to be put in a box.

SYA is one of a handful of Southeast Asian artists signed by Def Jam.

– Attacked by traditionalists –

Seen as a rising star in the music industry, the 25-year-old says she suffers attacks from those who consider her not to behave like a good Muslim.

“I had a lot of disturbing comments: + Is she really Muslim? How much does she take for a night? Why is she so naked? +”, She cites as an example.

In Malaysia, a relatively wealthy Southeast Asian country, society maintains very traditional values.

SYA says it faces a “patriarchal mindset” and the “sexualization” of those who rebel against the norms.

While the majority of Malaysian women wear the veil, this is not a legal requirement. But the country has seen a surge of conservative Islam, and anything seen as un-Islamic is increasingly criticized.

The young woman, who spent most of her childhood abroad, landed on the music scene almost by chance, uploading tracks noticed by Malaysian rapper SonaOne.

He introduced her to the Def Jam label which was developing in South East Asia to take advantage of a new generation of local stars and the emergence of a younger, more affluent audience.

“I consider myself above all as an author (…) writing was the first motivation to do all this,” she says, explaining that she never planned to make a career in music.

– Men freer to rap –

Attracted young by Britney Spears or Michael Jackson, she then turned to rap, “a genre that has so much outspokenness”.

But she observes that men are much more free to rap on sensitive subjects: “For boys, there are no limits. If they want to rap about sex or cannabis, it’s okay. But for women. , if you are of Malay origin, you cannot suggest that you touch it “.

Other artists have been concerned in Malaysia. Namewee, a minority Chinese rapper, has been attacked for videos seen as undermining Islam.

He now lives in Taiwan where he continues to be talked about, with provocative titles, like a pop song in Mandarin that mocks Chinese nationalists.

SYA hopes that she can give confidence to other women. “I don’t want to be a model”. But “you can be inspired by me to be yourself”.