People | 20 QUESTIONS

Mixing music genres into something magic

by Alex Martin

Staff Writer

Name: Peter Barakan
Age: 67
Nationality: British
Occupation: Freelance broadcaster / DJ (peterbarakan.net), curator of Live Magic! music festival (livemagic.jp)
Likes: My morning constitutional and my evening tipple
Dislikes: The excruciatingly bad English of train announcements


1. What sparked your interest in music? Rock ‘n’ roll, and then the Beatles, who came along when I was 11.

2. You came to Japan in the 1970s. What were your first impressions? Very Asian. The cooking smells wafting from restaurants seemed terribly foreign, and you seldom saw a Western face.

3. Technology has changed the way music is listened to. How do you think it has changed listener’s habits? Our attention spans have been decimated.

4. What was your first gig after arriving to Japan? Music publishing, acquiring and exploiting the rights to musical copyrights for the company I was employed by.

5. How did you get into radio broadcasting? I was lucky enough to get invited to an audition for my dream job, though there were many unimagined battles lurking over the horizon …

6. If you had to choose, what’s your single most favorite album? It changes daily, but how about Donny Hathaway’s “Live”?

7. You accompanied Ryuichi Sakamoto to Rarotonga for the filming of “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.” How did that happen and what do you remember about it? I was working for (Sakamoto’s) management at the time. One night we were drinking at the poolside bar of the only hotel on the island, when David Bowie nonchalantly came down for a drink and had the barman play his cassette of old R&B.

8. What have you learned from your decades of experience as a radio DJ? The value of a good two-way relationship with your listeners. And that we are all expendable.

9. What are your favorite genres of music? I have many. Most of them are at the rootsier end of the spectrum, and either played by or influenced by African-Americans.

10. Can you share a few good records you’ve listened to lately? Mavis Staples “If All I Was Was Black,” Bettye LaVette “Things Have Changed,” Willie Nelson “Last Man Standing, ” Ry Cooder “The Prodigal Son” and Jon Cleary “Dyna-Mite.”

11. Are there any genres you dislike? Anything really loud and aggressive, or grossly sentimental.

12. You’ve been hosting the Live Magic! music festival for some years now. How was the concept born? Quite casually. In 2014, I was asked to curate a smallish festival in Ebisu, and we took it from there. Luckily we’re still around.

13. So Live Magic! is a project you intend to continue indefinitely? As long as people keep coming. Getting the word out is a big part of the battle. And if there are any companies out there interested in supporting cultural events like ours, please get in touch!

14. How do you select the artists for Live Magic!? Some are personal favorites, but budget is a big factor. I also get lots of recommendations from friends and listeners, which have led to booking acts that even I had never heard of before.

15. What can we expect from the next Live Magic! (Oct. 20 and 21). The usual eclectic mix of different genres. Hopefully we can turn people on to new stuff. Please check www.livemagic.jp and Live Magic TV on YouTube for more info.

16. How would you describe today’s Japanese music scene? Increasingly insular. The media only seem interested in J-pop.

17. What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? Accepting a gig hosting a current events program. I thought I’d be fired within months, but it lasted 26 years!

18. If you could have a do-over, what would it be? I would have liked to have caught Aretha at Fillmore West in 1971, and the Allman Brothers at Fillmore East that following week.

19. What is your favorite dish? A nice dal and a paratha (flatbread) are always welcome, also katsu-curry (chicken or pork breaded cutlet with Japanese curry).

20. Who are some of the most memorable people you have met in your life? Of the ones whose names people would recognize, Ray Charles had an aura that I won’t forget.