Brenda Vaughn, home from Japan

During a recent visit to the Bay Area to visit family and friends, contemporaries who gathered to celebrate and reminisce at Q’s Lounge in Jack London Square serenaded Oakland’s own sensational song stylist, Brenda Vaughn, in song.

I sat down with Vaughn to discuss the success she is having in Japan and the heartfelt outpouring from her friends.  Emotional yet exuberant, Vaughn made special note of a close friend battling cancer, who she came to visit, asking all to embrace her with equal love.

Sandra Varner (Talk2SV): Brenda, how long have you lived in Japan?

Brenda Vaughn: Technically, I’ve been living there for 13 years. I didn’t realize it until we updated my profile last week. I had been going back and forth between there and New Orleans for a few years but it was never a plan. I never sat down and said, ‘I’m going to move to Asia.’

Talk2SV: It sounds as if your destiny was to move to Japan…

Vaughn: Yeah, and even once I got there, it was very difficult.  There were no background singers, I didn’t come with a band, or anything like that, it was just me. So that’s when I started to discover, ‘I’m here by myself.’

Talk2SV: The culture in Asia is different from the Bay Area; how long did it take you to get adjusted and what was the biggest adjustment?

Vaughn: Initially, it was a little easy because when you first come (to Japan), they may put you with other American musicians or other Americans so you have a little familiarity.  That helps you, however, the first time I went to Japan I went to the countryside.  I had no idea about the big buildings and all the hustle and bustle. I was in a little country town and the music was so alive, there were two American bands and we worked between two clubs. At first, it was very uncomfortable for me because I felt like I wasn’t reaching the crowd and I thought, ‘I’m not singing their language. I’m not sure how to articulate what I need to do.’ They looked at me like, ‘what?’ So, I went to see a band headed by a guy named Chris who had been there a very long time.  Watching them, I realized he’s just being himself, he’s not trying to speak Japanese, he’s not trying to act like them, he’s just being Chris.  I knew from then that I was going to be me. Once I did that and stopped tripping off the different culture, it clicked.  They started pushing me all over the country.  I started to record and produce and do things that I had never really thought about [before] for some reason.


Photo credit: Auintard Henderson and Photographers@Large

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