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Orko Loves the Kids

The godfather of SD underground hip-hop takes music production to underprivileged youth



    I know Thanksgiving has passed and everyone's in Hannukwanmas mode right now. But, I wanted to brag about how I stumbled upon a huge sale on Orko Eloheim's Bandcamp page over National Turkey Day, where he was selling tons of his albums for $1 a pop. I picked up 16 albums that day.

    Come to find out, he's having a sale because, like the immortal Ol' Dirty Bastard, Orko is for the children. For those of you who don't dedicate your entire existence to obscure rap, Orko is the godfather of underground hip-hop in San Diego. On top of hosting an open mic series in the '90s that birthed the local scene, his Masters of the Universe crew also boasts superb artists like SDMA-winning rapper Odessa Kane, and critically-acclaimed singer Gonjasufi.

    Nowadays though, Orko is focused on passing music down to the youth. He is currently raising funds for Sound + Art Composition, a program that teaches underprivileged kids how to make music using digital media arts. The program will instruct kids on popular music production software like Ableton and GarageBand using iPads and tablets -- all powered by solar panels. Orko got on the phone with me from Minneapolis to give me the full scoop.

    Quan Vu: Tell me about your Sound + Art Composition project.
    Orko Eloheim: It's actually workshops that I'm going to be doing nationally. Basically, it's a business that I'm starting. I work with non-profits and other different community entities. What I'm doing is creating scholarships to teach urban children--teach kids in the urban and rural areas that are less fortunate--music.

    Music has been for the haves and not for the have-nots. The creation of it hasn't been geared much towards people that don't have money. It's always been very expensive to buy equipment, whether it be analog equipment like guitars and drums and drum sets and all that stuff or saxophones or brass instruments...you've always had to have a couple bucks to get involved with music.

    What I'm trying to do is circumvent that with the new technology that we have at our fingertips. And it's a very inexpensive way to plant a seed, to get a spark going so they can go out and reach a real instrument--not a "real" instrument, but an analog instrument--and pick it up so it won't be so foreign.

    The funniest thing is, if you asked these kids nowadays what these real instruments are or what sound it makes, they're probably gonna have no clue. Just like kids seeing animals at the zoo--they've never really seen them in the wild so when they see 'em in captivity, it kinda trips them out like, "Wow, it's not a dog or a cat or something I see all the time or a cow or chicken. It's another animal." And I think that's how it's kinda gotten with instruments. Kids don't really know what they look like anymore and adults don't either.

    Last night, I was at an Abstract Rude show and there was an opening act. There was a kid onstage playing a bassoon! [laughs] I haven't seen that played onstage in mega years, since like a school recital. I don't think I've ever seen somebody play a bassoon or a wind instrument onstage at all! And it was just so dope to see that incorporated inside of their art.

    That's what I'm really trying to do: give kids a chance to engage and get reconnected back with the instruments by planting the seeds digitally. By showing them "techno" versions of instruments and having them play with that. And then that composition, either that's gonna lead them into a realm of digital composition or spark them to actually grab the instrument and start playing it themself.

    QV: You're teaching production programs like Ableton and GarageBand. What made you choose those?
    OE: For GarageBand, it's a very simple program that's very basic and very intuitive. It's very easy to open up, the interface is easy. It comes with about ten different instruments and a microphone and a rack to plug in equipment. It's kind of like an all-in-one program. It's got drums, keys, synthesizers, effects, loops, things you can play out. It's a very well-made program, same people that produced Logic. It's like Logic 101. That's the reason I like working with that for children.

    I teach music to kids through a program I created at a [homeless shelter] called PSP [People Serving People] in Minneapolis. There's this kid. He was in a wheelchair. He has good use of his hands. It was his first day in my class a couple days ago. He made 4-5 beats! On-beat, super hardcore! I just saw him--his energy--just shift.

    Over the years, I've been working with the Jacobs [Family] Foundation with my mentor Dajahn Blevins. He's the one that puts together the Kuumba Fest. He had our spot. They had a grant with $50,000 worth of music equipment. I was teaching kids there Reason and ProTools and recording sessions. Bullet Loco [better known as rapper Jayo Felony], a lot of the gangbangers, and a lot of other people will get involved in the community and come down and help the kids. One of my relatives, my cousin Nasheed--[better known as rapper] Bay Loc--would record there.

    Coming out here, I just wanted to continue that youth engagement and youth advocacy by creating these programs that I've been involved with over the years. So it's just another step toward that.

    QV: Do you have plans to broadcast your workshops online?
    OE: Yes, I do through the website that I'm building right now. I'm creating Soundclouds for all the kids inside the classes. So these kids can look at their music throughout their life. As long as these websites are up or the iCloud, they'll always be able to take their music down and listen to it. Even when the workshop is not around, if the session is on iCloud, they can pull it down on any piece of equipment that they got that is actually compatible with the program.

    QV: I read something about solar panels. Are you powering all your equipment via solar panels?
    OE: Yes. It's a green movement. The whole angle of this is repurposing and refurbishing older generation--what I'm gonna be using are those durable, 1st-generation Apple iPads that just came out in 2010. There's already been five different ones and it just came out in 2010. They're messing up. They're making technology too quick and it's not outdating itself. So I can get the old, worthless iPad. I can basically buy 3-4 iPads for the price of a brand new one, if not 5 of them! That's what I'm doing: re-purposing a lot of technology.

    The solar panels I'm getting are actually appropriated for boats because when you're on a boat, you can't escape the sun, there's a lot of sun everywhere. So instead of being a glutton of electricity, that's a great opportunity to go green.

    So they got these little--kinda look like they're made of yoga mat material--and they're about the size of a regular piece of paper, the solar panels. And they roll up and you can connect 8 different devices on them. I can connect [the iPads] up and have them all charged up. I can move around with them. So I can really have the classes outside as well. We're not confined by walls.

    To make your contribution to the Sound + Art Composition program, visit its Fundly page. Or you can just do yourself a favor and buy Orko's music, which will be on sale on Bandcamp until Dec.14.

    Quan Vu is the founder and editor of local music blog sdRAPS.com. He has also written about local and national hip-hop acts for San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Reader. You can nerd out on rap trivia by becoming BFF's on Facebook or e-mailing him directly.