X11: Music is Natureal!

Greetings again,

Carrying on with my exploration of fellow creatives in Japan, I had the great opportunity to interview a man by the name of Vernon Keith, a talented musician. Along with his equally talented band members, they have and are still making waves across Japan. Behold Vernon and his band: Natureal!

Who are you and where do you come from?

Vernon Keith from Houston, Texas -USA

I’ve lived in Shizuoka city, Japan since 2006

You are living in Japan now, right? How long have you been living here and what brought you to this place specifically?

I first came to Japan when my then girlfriend, whom I met through a high school friend (now wife since 2003), invited me to visit on a return home trip for New Year’s Eve 2001-2002.
I had always been fascinated with Japan since my early 20s, and after 9/11, a friend who narrowly escaped death in tower 1 by ONE HOUR on her way to work that morning told me…”Vernon , if you EVER get a chance to travel & see the world…DO IT, because you NEVER know when it’s YOUR TIME to leave this world.” I took her sage advice and after maybe 9 or so trips, I moved here.

You seem to be quite the musician. What got you started in the first place? Perhaps there were musicians you looked up to, as a child?

I attended Houston’s famed HSPVA (performing arts school) and had the chance to not only MEET a LOT of famous musicians and influences, but a classmate was perhaps “the most dangerous drummer ALIVE right now”, Chris Dave (so says Questlove, drummer for the Roots) Chris and I lived in the same neighborhood in Houston and he’s played with everyone from Erykah Badu and Maxwell to Adele and Robert Glasper (also PVA alumni).

We support each other and we won’t be deterred. An interesting shift IS slowly happening, but it won’t grow into something we want without OUR voices and presence.

You may not know it but MANY famous artists went to that school: Robert Glasper, Beyonce’, Bassist for the Roots, the writer of Dear White People, and many more…

I actually got to meet Ricky Lawson in Japan (drummer for Micheal Jackson) because another classmate was the step daughter of his guitar player: Dwight Sills.

Favorite musicians: Ricky Lawson, Dennis Chambers (P-Funk, Santana), Prince (whom I’ve seen live 5 times)R.I.P, Dave Weckl (Chic Corea, GRP all stars), rapper Scarface (also a classmate and childhood friend from my 1st band EVER in 8th grade), UGK, Robert Glasper (favorite keyboard player and PVA alumni) and so many others who I’ve been lucky enough to meet and call friends now.

Tell me a little about your band: Natureal. You’re the band director, right? Who are the members and how did you all meet?

The band is called NATUREAL, yes I’m the band leader/director and the other members are Yuuki Yamato (keyboards) & Keisuke Iwasake (bass guitar), DJ Hiroking( turntables)

We do primarily Hip Hop, R&B/Neo soul and damn near any Black music be it reggae or jazz, etc…

Band Mild
Natureal – performing in club Harlem, in Tokyo Japan
I used to play in a classic rock/soul band with Yuuki and his father (singer) twice a month in Shizuoka and happened to meet Keisuke by luck & recommendation.

He had 3-4 SERIOUS basses so I knew he took music seriously. Nobody spends over 1 million yen on instruments for a hobby. The 3 of us all loved contemporary music and they were serious hip hop fans so we started playing a lot together in 2007-2008.

Our main focus is MILD OUT, Japan’s Blackest hip hop party BY FAR, every 2 months in Shibuya,Tokyo the first Friday of the month at 10pm @ Club Bar Family LIVE Hip Hop parties are what is served and contemporary artists performed LIVE is something that ONLY WE ARE DOING. (Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Lauryn Hill, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Neptunes, Snoop Dogg, you name it) If it’s HOT we WILL bring it to LIFE before your eyes and it won’t cost 10,000 yen like most of those artists shows when they come to Japan. Accuracy ENERGY is OUR Hallmark. We even have the actual accapella vocals courtesy of our DJ. EVERYTHING else is played LIVE. We’ve played Harlem in Tokyo (the only club that does hip hop ALL the time) and MILD OUT is definitely BLACKER and more LIT for sure.
Females mild

Ken Mild

Are there any other groups or bands you are involved with?

I also play drums in a jazz trio called Project SZOK (Shizuoka city for short)

And I recorded a full album here in 2010 with a band called Macky & Babalets (swing, blues, rock & R&B flavors) It’s the side project of a rather popular Rock band called CADILLAC’s lead singer. I got that gig when the drummer was unable to play after a car accident. We ended up touring all over Japan from Osaka to Hokkaido

Last but slightly off topic question. What are your thoughts concerning people of colour coming to live and achieve their dreams in Japan? It seems like a growing and interesting shift is happening. Any assumptions as to what Japan may look like in the next to twenty years?

My advice for POC coming to Japan? Be prepared to adjust to crowds and smaller spaces. Try to leave your perceived ideas of what Japan is like behind and take it in fresh with the experience. KNOW that people may be infatuated with you OR shun you a little socially because you are a foreigner. Understand that racism is everywhere in the world but in Japan, everyone NOT Japanese is in the same tiny boat. The people are POLITE and kind and you WILL need to adjust. Police harassment will be so polite that you may not realize you’ve been harassed till it’s over. LOL Japan NEEDS POC to get any REAL understanding of who we are. Like most of Asia, their perceptions of Black people all come from media, TV, movies, magazines and all THAT is feed to them through a very white American lens. They NEED contact with us to get past the negative images they are fed. It’s NOT their fault but change comes SLOW to Japan so the more contact, the faster they will truly understand who we REALLY are.

The culture here is warm, beautiful and interesting.

If you want to chase your dreams here, be determined, focused and connect with a vibrant Black community that is present in many big cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.

We support each other and we won’t be deterred. An interesting shift IS slowly happening, but it won’t grow into something we want without OUR voices and presence.

The culture here is warm, beautiful and interesting. Opportunities are there and like NATUREAL & DJ Hiroking have done, they can also be CREATED if you are about spreading Black culture and showing Japan who we TRULY are.

Thank you

To follow Vernon and the amazing band Natureal – find follow them on their facebook page!




Author, Blogger, Dreamer


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