Even when he was on the road, performing as a live version of Paula Abdul’s MC Skat Kat, Pablo Malco was always thinking about the future.
“I’m a huge dreamer, man,” Malco said. “I tell my kids: When you stop dreaming, you’re kind of dead. You have no more goals.”
This week, Malco’s eponymous foundation was named a Knight Arts Challenge grant recipient for a performance of its Hip-Hop Symphony, a dance piece that marries classical music to hip-hop and rock. The grant, for $10,000, also will advance the aim of the Pablo Malco Foundation, which is to engage and improve South Florida’s youth community through artistic endeavor.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who grew up in Baytown, Texas, near Houston, Malco came up with the idea for the Hip-Hop Symphony in 2003 after having just seen a ballet performance in Los Angeles.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, how great would it be to have an orchestra playing a funky hip-hop song? Full on?’ I started writing that day, and it took me about three years to get it to the stage,” he said.
The Hip-Hop Symphony, first performed in 2006 in a preliminary form, is a multi-movement dance work that includes a 20-piece classical orchestra, a five-piece rock band, a seven-voice choir, and a troupe of 13 hip-hop dancers. The show has grown under previous grant support, a process that should continue with the Knight outlay.
“We’ve actually been able to make it a little bit bigger of a production,” he said. “With this grant, it’s going to allow us to take it to the next level.”
Malco said he wants to offer socially conscious hip-hop, in the manner of rappers such as Common, Kanye West and Mos Def, rather than others who celebrate self-indulgence.
“Part of me is a little disappointed with the hip-hop on radio and television and other media, and I think it’s taking it away from what authentic hip-hop was. And it’s misleading our children,” Malco said. “And for the inner-city kids and low-income kids, who only hear what’s on the radio, I want them to understand and appreciate classical music.
“It’s two birds with one stone with me. I’d really want the kids to see something other than what they hear on the radio, and I would really like to promote beautiful, positive, uplifting music.”
Malco studied the violin and played in the school orchestra as a seventh- and eighth-grader in Texas, and cherishes the experience.
“The orchestra gave me something that I would never have been introduced to anywhere else. So it was a beautiful part of my life that I always appreciate,” he said. He moved on to bass guitar in high school, but found his biggest artistic calling later in ballet, to which he says he is “addicted.”
“I’ve been a street dancer all my life, and literally, ballet is my favorite sport in the world. It’s amazing,” Malco said.
He toured as Skat Kat for six months with Abdul, and studied journalism and dance in the Los Angeles Community College system before coming to Florida to pursue his interest in reggae music, for which he’d produced some recordings. To support himself, he began teaching dance, and in 2007, he created his foundation.
The Pablo Malco Foundation offers eight-week sessions of dance, voice and music classes, and for 11 years has been collaborating with other local dance studios in a group show called The Choreographers’ Ball, the most recent one of which was held this past October in Aventura. The aim of all this is to improve the lives of young people, particularly in inner-city and low-income communities.
“We try to give kids a stronger self-image, more confidence, help them build personality and develop communication skills. I think that’s one of the hardest things for kids in those communities, is to learn how to communicate on all levels,” Malco said. “A lot of us are closed up from our pain or things we’ve been conditioned to.”
The next performance of the Hip-Hop Symphony will be April 6 at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale. The work is 90 minutes long, and covers a multiplicity of genres within a rap framework. [Here are some excerpts from the foundation’s website]
“There are ballerinas, there are salsa dancers, there are contemporary dancers, modern dancers, and hip-hop dancers. And though it’s a predominantly hip-hop show, I like my dancers to be very well-rounded,” he said. “I support training and education in performing arts, so I don’t want you to come in as a one-dimensional performer. My dancers are pretty well-versed.”
The music for the show covers classical, rock, hip-hop, salsa and industrial, and from a variety of sources, but this time around Malco is trying to include more original music by local composers. “We’re here for the community, so we want local musicians to provide us music for this next one,” he said. “Right now, we’re about a third of the way, but we’ve found some really nice music from local musicians and artists.”
Malco said the grant will pay for the artists and the venue in the April 6 show, and that will allow him to use money from ticket sales and sponsorship to expand his programming. Ideally, he’d like to he offer 36 weeks – basically, a whole school year – of after-school classes.
“We’re trying to up our game throughout the year for performing arts classes,” he said.
He’s also trying to provide arts education to children in school systems where money for arts training has been severely pared back. “They took it out of the schools … but we can go to them. We don’t have our own space, but if we can raise money, I have enough instructors in Broward and Dade counties who need the work and who would love to teach these classes,” he said.
And when it all comes together, it’s rewarding.
“Every time,” he said. “Every time you see them perform, or just see it on their faces. It’s amazing.”