Hat and jacket: Kit Woo
Progress is slow on set at our September cover shoot with Bunga… because our production team is in hysterics. "What song do you play when you're cleaning your house?", I've asked.

Straight-faced and with absolutely no hesitation, she answers, "WAP by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion". Then, after a small pause, she bursts into a fit of giggles… as do we. There is no further elaboration on her end. Objectively, she's on the right track; after all, the lyrics speak for themselves ("Bring a bucket and a mop…"). It takes us four more takes to get one that's usable because we cannot stop cracking up, and then one more for backup. And yes, you can watch the full video ahead.

This is the energy Bunga brings everywhere she goes—she's a magnetic presence with her charisma stat turned up to 10. Perfectly professional when she needs to be, but equipped with quick wit and a contagious laugh that endears you to her almost immediately. It's that same star quality that has earned the 23-year-old her biggest gig yet: The opportunity to open for Coldplay's sold-out Malaysia show. But who is she?
Balaclava and jumper: Brunello Cucinelli. Top and rings: Stylist's own
Born Noor Ayu Fatini, our September cover star hails from Perak—specifically, Teluk Intan—and was raised in Kuala Kangsar before moving to Kuala Lumpur as a teenager.

Like any adolescent girl coming of age, she poured her teenage angst and desires into her art: Poetry. "I had a lot of free time when I was doing my diploma. So, I liked to write poems," she explains. It was from this exercise of self-expression that the Bunga persona was born. "My poet name at 18 was Bunga—I chose the name because bunga is a symbol of womanhood."
Poetry is the food of the soul… until it isn't. Writing pretty verses can only excite the mind so much—sometimes what you need is a killer track to lay them to. Bunga's initial steps into the rap world were tentative, driven by a desire to push herself creatively. "I was bored of writing my poems," she admits, opening up about her introduction to rap. "I'd never rapped before—I'd never seen any rap battles or even explored the genre much, but I love music and I love to challenge myself."

The artist found herself drawn to the idea of using rap as a vehicle for self-expression. Unlike singing, where technical prowess is often prioritised, rap allowed her to narrate her own life experiences in a raw, candid manner. "I do love singing, but my voice is not like Ernie Zakri!" she laughs. "I love writing and expressing my soul, so I want to write about things that actually happen in my life. Rap is one of the genres that allows me to do that in the way I want to. With ballads, it's usually always about love and broken hearts. I don't want to be that."

Bunga's beginnings are modest and, honestly, very relatable. "I started by searching up 'How to rap' on YouTube. I learned simple and basic ways to rhyme, make wordplays and so on," she recalls. Stars—they're just like us!

Inspired by local trailblazers such as Joe Flizzow, SonaOne, Alyph, Chronicalz and Malique Ibrahim, Bunga would soon begin putting out feelers in the local rap scene.
Top: Motoguo. Cardigan and gloves: Stylist's own
Unfortunately, her start in rap was rocky, at best. She may have been catapulted into the spotlight through Joe Flizzow's rap cypher show, 16 Baris, but that was not her first rodeo with live performance. "Before 16 Baris I was actually in one freestyle competition. At first, I didn't know it was freestyle. I was told that it was free verse. I had no idea what was going on," she reveals, visibly mortified at the memory. For context, in free verse, your raps are pre-written. In freestyle, everything comes off the top of your head. "There were two rounds, 60 seconds each. For both rounds, I did nothing on stage. I just stood still and said 'Yo' until my time was up."

The experience left her deflated and understandably embarrassed. However, Bunga wasn't ready to end things there. "The organiser met me after the incident and he said: 'You know what, you can bring your songs on stage if you want.' So, of course, I took the challenge."

It's this next performance that earned the budding rapper her first viral video, and the subsequent opportunity that would change the trajectory of her life. "When the video went viral, a few people reached out to me to join their labels but, at the time, I was just doing it for fun. I didn't think it would become my career," she tells us. "It was only when my mentor—artist and producer Aidy'Ad—came to me and taught me how to rap that I started to pursue it seriously, posting my free verses on YouTube every week. Aidy'Ad would check and balance everything I wrote to see what to add and tweak before I posted it. Then, everything happened so fast—in just two months, I got an offer for 16 Baris' second season, my performance went viral, and then I got an offer from a music label to sign as an artist."
With a record deal under her belt and a fast-growing following, the young rapper has gone from creating music from the comfort of her bedroom to the global stage. Just last year, she broke into the international market, collaborating with American R&B singer Pink Sweats on the track I Feel Good, where she sing-raps in both English and Malay. And, of course, as mentioned earlier, she was announced as the opening act for Coldplay's Music of the Spheres World Tour in Malaysia this year.

"I didn't know my team was talking to Coldplay's management about me opening for them. I just know that I was surprised with the news that I'm the opening act," she says of her upcoming gig, bashfully. "I'm excited, but the pressure is on—eighty thousand people are coming. The biggest crowd I've ever played to is just five thousand people!"
Top and skirt: Behati. Sunglasses, socks and shoes: Motoguo. Bracelet: Stylist's own
It's a daunting thought for her, clearly, and it has taken its toll. "Honestly, when I first got the offer, I thought, 'How can people accept me? It's not that I want to bring myself down, but I know how people can be," she begins, before hashing out her master plan. "People are not at fault that they don't know me, it's just that I haven't found a way to introduce myself to those who don't recognise me. I'm still new in the industry, so I plan to address any questions and criticisms they may have before the show, and let people get to know me through my content."
If there's anything she's sure of, it's who she is and what she stands for. In the now-viral video from 16 Baris (with 3.7 million views as of this month), our cover girl is featured front and centre, dropping bars in a floral baju kurung and hijab. The dichotomy of these optics isn't something she shies away from—in fact, she embraces it. "The baju kurung and tudung is my identity," she says, firmly. Bunga embraces modesty both in and out of her music, but it hasn't stopped her from being on the receiving end of unsavoury criticism.

"I think constructive criticism and advice are good things, but as someone in the public eye, it's important to know the limits of what you're comfortable with," she states, matter-of-factly. "It's not that I'm stuck up and I want to ignore advice, but most of the comments I get are just given to bring my confidence down. It's mostly about what I wear and how I perform—I've been criticised for jumping around wearing baju kurung because I'm excited to perform." Bunga goes on to explain that the incident in question is a performance from last year's Good Vibes Weekender, where she performed her single with Pink Sweats for the first time.
"I restrain myself from responding to comments like that because I respect other people, but I know the truth and I know I don't need to care much about that stuff," she resolves.

That said, though she's secure in her identity, she's not boxing herself in musically. "I haven't found my sound yet," Bunga admits. "I'm still experimenting—I've got the pop songs and the rap songs, but my next single is more mellow, so I don't know how my audience will react."

"I'm still young and new to the music industry, so I'm constantly trying out things I've never done before—I'm still learning," she adds. "When I first joined the rap scene, I thought that everyone's style was the same. But, the longer we've been in the industry, the more varying characters we can see. Like my fellow Malaysian female rappers—Zamaera and Hullera's styles have evolved. I can see their true selves now, just like how I see mine."
Top and skirt: Behati. Balaclava: Brunello Cucinelli
For someone so young, Bunga has her head screwed on straight. At just 23, she has achieved milestones most can only dream of—getting her diploma, buying her first car, buying her first home, and getting her degree in Business Administration.

"I want to secure my future so that I won't have to worry about it later on. God gave me blessings and a career, but I don't know how long this career will last," she states, pragmatically. "I'm careful with how I spend my money. I'm saving up and not spending lavishly so I can make sure I'm living comfortably when I'm older."

It may come as a surprise, but music wasn't the end goal when she first started out, and it still isn't. Beyond music, Bunga has her eyes on grander pastures—opening a resort by the beach, where she envisions a life beyond the spotlight. "I don't want to make music forever, but music is my starting point to reach my big dream."

With her talents, mind, and ambition, we have no doubts that the future is bright for our September cover girl. So, what comes next? With any luck, it's going to be the release of her very first full-length album. Not making too many promises, Bunga hints at a release date sometime in 2024. Until then, we'll catch her at Bukit Jalil this November.
Hat and jumper: Motoguo. Glasses: Stylist's own
This interview has been translated and edited for length and clarity.
Editor-in-chief / Sarah Hani Jamil
CREATIVE DIRECTION & layout design / Sarah Tai
Photography / HERBE YAP
Videography / Dennis Kho
Makeup / GAN CHU FAN