Robert Soko: So, Chiku, our goal is to interview you about your affinity for Balkan music, and then the Balkan scene in Japan in order to get some weird details out of this world.

Chiku Yutaka:  Yes, yes, yes.

Robert Soko: The first question – quite a predictable one – how did you stumble upon Balkan music?

Chiku Yutaka: I used to DJ punk and country twenty years ago. And after that I started getting into Irish music and accordion music, violins. And Gypsy music is using those instruments.  So then I started liking that kind of music. 

Robert Soko: Tell me, are there any Gypsies in Japan?

Chiku Yutaka: No. 

Robert Soko: How did you then perceive the Gypsy culture, given that you don’t have Gypsies in Japan? Why was it so attractive? Was it the movies of Emir Kusturica that helped you discover Gypsy culture?

Chiku Yutaka: Yes, I watched the Kusturica movies and the movie about Fanfare Ciocarlia. That was around eighteen years ago.

Robert Soko: 2005 around. This was when the scene started taking off. Okay. And how long did it take for Balkan music/Gypsy music to gain a following in Japan?

Chiku Yutaka:  At the time that we met ten years ago, that’s the time that it started to spread. It took four years for me to establish my own style. I started putting on events and inviting my friends.

Robert Soko: Did alcohol help you discover this music?

Chiku Yutaka: A lot. Especially tequila. 

Robert Soko: That’s a typical Balkan booze.

Robert Rigney: What is the connection between punk music and Gypsy music?

Chiku Yutaka: Gogol Bordello. When I started listening to them I realized the connection between punk and Gypsy. When Gogol Bordello came to Japan, that was the moment that the scene really started. They came twice.  Do you know Flogging Molly? They are an Irish punk band. They came with Gogol Bordello and played together in a music festival. Irish music was already established in Japan. And the fans of Irish music came to the same festival and they started liking Gypsy music as well. 

Robert Rigney: Because, presumably, the traditional instruments, like accordion and violin.

Chiku Yutaka: Yes exactly. 

Robert Soko: Are there still Balkan parties in Japan?

Chiku Yutaka: They are still going on. Especially Charan-Po-Rantan, which is two sisters who dress up weird and mix French chansons with Balkan music.

Robert Soko: And one time you got naked on the stage and showed your ass to the people. What was that all about? I loved it, because to me it was not very Japanese. It was rather, Balkanese.  Why did you do this? Why did you show you ass to the dancing crowd?

Chiku Yutaka: Ha, ha, ha. I was drunk.

Robert Soko: Of course you were drunk. I loved it. It was very brave, in my opinion.  Very unusual.  I would wish you would do it more often.

Chiku Yutaka: It’s part of the Japanese performance.

Robert Soko: It’s a part of Japanese performance. Ah, all right.

Robert Rigney: Where do these parties take place? In Tokyo?

Chiku Yutaka: Mostly in Osaka. More people are interested in Balkan music in Osaka than in Tokyo.

Robert Rigney: How often do the parties take place?

Chiku Yataka: The parties take place two or three times a month. 

Robert Rigney: What’s the crowd like that comes to the parties?

Chiku Yataka: Maybe a couple hundred people show up. 

Robert Soko: If you could describe the people, what kind of people are they? Students or what?

Chiku Yataka: Mostly younger people, but a lot of people in their thirties. A lot of people into belly-dancing. Students who are going to belly-dance school. I performed at a belly-dance festival this summer in Yoyogi park, a big park in Tokyo. 

Robert Rigney: What’s the connection between belly-dancing and Balkan music?

Chiku Yataka: Not only Balkan Gypsy music, but also Turkish and Egyptian music. There’s a definite connection. But the people who like this stuff are a definite minority in Japan, and there is not much information available on this subject. So that’s why they come to my parties.

Robert Soko: People who go to your parties they drink, they don’t take drugs in Japan.

Chiku Yataka: Not really drugs.

Robert Soko: More alcohol. Japanese whisky, isn’t it.

Chiku Yataka: Japanese don’t really drink Japanese whisky because it is expensive. 

Robert Rigney: But tequila is okay.

Chiku Yataka: Or saki.

Robert Rigney: How did you meet this guy sitting next to me?

Chiku Yataka: Through his compilation CDs. Balkan Beats CDs. Especially volume one. I knew some of the artists on it. I bought it. His name was  on it. And I got really interested.

Robert Rigney: Which artists rang a bell for you?

Chiku Yataka:  Deladap. Magnifico. 

Robert Soko: Magnifico! “Hir Ai Kam Hir Aj Go“. It was a big hit in Japan, I have heard. It was used at some point as a football stadium anthem. You made some money with this as well, if I am not mistaken.

Chiku Yakaka: Yes.

Robert Rigney: Did you realize that Robert Soko drank a lot and ate a lot of sushi?

Chiku Yakaka: I drink even more than you!

Robert Soko: But I eat more sushi!

Robert Rigney: How would you describe Robert Soko to a Japanese audience?

Chiku Yakaka: Godfather of Balkan Beats.

Robert Soko: But as a person. As an asshole, an idiot, a super smart guy, a pretentious prick…

Chiku Yakaka: I would say he is a guy who likes Japan a lot.

Robert Soko: This is true. I am a Japanophile. I love Japan. But this is not the subject now. 

Robert Rigney: How would you describe the Balkan crowd in Japan?

Chiku Yakaka: A lot of stylish people who are luxury blond. There are a lot of people who work in the fashion industry.

Robert Rigney: Luxury blonde, eh? 

Robert Soko: Because it seems to be that the Balkan music and the Balkan fashion seems to be something exotic, very special. Just a small group of Japanese people would follow the trend. Am I right that it is more like a fashion rather than a broadly accepted cultural phenomenon?

Chiku Yakaka: There is not much Balkan fashion.

Robert Rigney: Who do you like? Goran Bregović?

Chiku Yakaka: Yes, very much. “Gas, Gas, Gas”, “Kalashnikov”, “Mesečina“. I also like his collaboration with Rachid Taha.

Robert Rigney: What goes on at a Japanese Balkan party?

Chiku Yakaka: People are drinking more than ever. 

Robert Soko: No sex?

Chiku Yakaka: Sometimes.

Robert Soko: Where, why, when?

Chiku Yakaka: Ha, ha, ha.

Robert Soko: What did you do in Japan regarding the covid situation? No parties. What did you do?

Chiku Yakaka: I did live-streaming instead of performing live in a venue. 

Robert Soko: And did it work well?

Chiku Yakaka: Yeah, it went over well.

Robert Rigney: What about Japanese bands playing Balkan music? Other Balkan DJs like yourself? What’s the scene like?

Chiku Yakaka: There are some. Most of them are doing cover music. They are not doing their own music.

Robert Rigney: So these cover bands, what kind of songs do they cover?

Chiku Yakaka: Emir Kusturica and Goran Bregovic a lot.

Robert Rigney: What’s the difference between Europe and Japan?

Chiku Yakaka: Japanese are more shy and introverted. In Europe the audience excitement is really obvious. The mood is different overall. Japanese are more quiet.

Robert Rigney: Well Chiku, thanks for the interview.

Chiku Yakaka: Thank you.