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Les Rivera: The Ultimate Bilingual Entertainer.

May 8, 2015

05ElMalitoonlineAs part of our partnership with Philly Beer Scene magazine, we’re documenting Philly’s relationships between music and beer. For a recent issue of Philly Beer Scene, G.W. Miller III caught up with Les Rivera, a sort-of rapper, freelance videographer, sometime bartender, former professional dancer and all-around entertainer.

Few people could ever look more at home on a stage than Les Rivera. When he’s performing as El Malito, supported by his futuristic band – the 33rd Century, he swivels his hips, stomps around, converses with the audience and sometimes takes his clothes off.

His rapping follows the old school, storytelling style, with poignant messages about social issues and popular culture delivered in party-fashion in Spanish and English.

“I don’t even call it rapping,” says the modest Rivera. “I respect the art form too much.”

But after a song or two filled with his infectious energy, the band’s pounding rhythms and the choreographed dance moves, it’s guaranteed that the audience will be dancing right along with him. And many people wind up singing along with the refrain while waving their hands in the air.

This is just the latest incarnation of Rivera the performer. Before creating El Malito and the 33rd Century four years ago, Rivera had been a part of three different indie rock bands. Before that, he did the singer-songwriter thing, often singing Beatles and Johnny Cash songs in Spanish.

“I wasn’t doing what I should be doing,” he recalls.

So he started rapping.

Born in Puerto Rico and raised in West Chester, Rivera had dreamed of becoming a doctor when he was a child. He was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania but the high tuition caused him to instead enroll at La Salle University.

Music and performance, however, was always a part of his life. During his freshman year, he began dancing professionally and quickly dropped out of college to tour the world with the Rennie Harris Puremovement dance company. He performed with the innovative hip-hop troupe for about 15 years.

Along the way, Rivera picked up film director Robert Rodriguez’s book, “Rebel Without a Crew” and he started making films. When he’s not performing, Rivera now does freelance video production. He recently spent seven weeks in Atlanta with the Brian Sanders dance/theater company, JUNK, as they competed on the truTV performance show “Fake Off.”

El Malito shows are multimedia experiences, with Rivera’s surreal, almost cartoonish videos flashed on screens while the band belts out their power anthems.

Now 40 and expecting his first child, Rivera is working on new music, incorporating the emerging sound – called “mahragan” – that he experienced while living in Egypt for a few months last year. Mahragan combines DJ production, steady beats, distorted voices and hints at traditional Middle Eastern sounds.

“It’s music that arose because of the revolution,” he says. “It’s like the way hip-hop was here in the beginning. They talk about their troubles, using music to express themselves.”

A former Ruba Club bartender, Rivera currently resides in Fishtown, close to Bottle Bar East, where he picks up his Belgian beers. He returns to Puerto Rico as much as possible, where he finds himself chilling on the beach with a Medalla Premium Light in his hand.

“It’s not good beer,” Rivera says. “It’s terrible. But there’s something about it that when you’re on the beach, it’s so perfect.”

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