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Daniel “Malakai” Cabrera on Finding Substance Over Hype Anywhere

Daniel “Malakai” Cabrera toasts the premiere of “Business Unusual” at the Renaissance Chicago Downtown. (Photo: David Miller)

Daniel “Malakai” Cabrera made his directorial debut with the short film “Two Bellmen” in 2015, bringing his high-energy vision, a mash-up of dance, athletics, music and a great story to small screens and big brands everywhere. His second short, “Business Unusual,” aptly describes to his approach to writing, producing and directing.

I caught up with the founder of “Substance Over Hype, ” a self-proclaimed “movement” that aims to inspire through movement, music and stories, at the Renaissance Chicago Downtown for the premiere of “Business Unusual,” to talk about the places and people that have inspired him in his travels.

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Cabrera on the “black carpet” at the “Business Unusual” film premiere. (Photo: David Miller)

Your background is as a parkour athlete and you incorporate parkour in your short films, is there a best city for parkour? Where’s the best place to experience it or see it?

Parkour originates from France, but how I came to it was from friends in the U.K. who are kind of the top names in it. There are a lot of athletes in L.A. as well. Between those three areas they have been the biggest inspiration for me, personally. What’s so great about it is that it is so global and no matter where we are, even in Chicago, there are parkour athletes, and the community is really supportive. It’s reached the point that it’s so global and so international that it’s everywhere.

You also have musical roots, having penned and produced two albums. What cities speak to you musically?

I originally moved to L.A. for music and took the side door into producing and directing. But [music] is a huge part of everything we do with Substance Over Hype. We always try to build in high quality music into our films. Music becomes a big part of the story. It makes it fun and I get a bit of both worlds.

The musicians that I’ve met in Chicago are just super inspirational from the soul aspect. I enjoyed a lot of the music in Paris and had a good chance to stumble across a lot of the modern music scene. It sounded that much better in French, too. Although I’m spoiled to be in L.A., I still like Chicago and Paris for their music scenes. But everywhere, I’m a sucker for music. If you get me in front of live music, especially, because I have so much respect for it and where it lives.

What are some of your top music spots in L.A?

In L.A., it’s still great to get out to some of the bigger places like Club Nokia and House of Blues, your traditional names, are bringing through some great acts.

Do you have a favorite travel memory?

Spring of last year, I traveled to Cannes and we stayed at the JW Marriott there and it was just so beautiful to be in the south of France. My wife and I rented scooters for the day and we rode the coast of Monte Carlo. It was the most ideal vacation you could have. We had lunch in Monte Carlo and rode back, and the last bit of sunlight went away as we drove up to the hotel. It was just the perfect romantic time. I’m also a huge fan of Italy. I want to go back to Italy.

Any must-haves when you travel?

It’s funny; I do have a go-to jacket that I wear—a classic black, zip-up bomber. I always have to have a source of music for my room. I think I over pack, in general. I think on my list is all my stuff.

For music, I keep a top 10 playlist that’s like my playlist to have on a deserted island. Some of the artists are Bob Marley, Les Nubians, Michael Jackson and I’m always exploring new stuff that’s not mainstream.

Cabrera with Business Unusual cast members Tia Carrere and Jason Gerhardt at Renaissance Chicago Downtown. (Photo: David Miller)
Cabrera with “Business Unusual” cast members Tia Carrere and Jason Gerhardt at Renaissance Chicago Downtown. (Photo: David Miller)

You’ve filmed in L.A., Chicago and now, Dubai for “Two Bellmen 2,” premiering February 4. Do you have any great travel memories from those locations?

Dubai had a few. It’s so exotic in terms of the layout and working specifically with the JW Marriott Marquis was a tremendous experience because I’ve got a lot of background working with a lot of partners and they were so supportive and friendly, and great to work with. I really took the hospitality with them to heart. Just the culture of Dubai being so welcoming to travelers was nice.

And, honestly [Chicago] because this is the first city where I’ve truly been like, “Oh, I think I’ll have a second place there.” I’ve been to a lot of cities and I’ve had the feeling of I’d love to visit, but not I’d love to have a condo there, and Chicago makes me feel that way. People say, “Oh, but not in winter,” but I’m here on one of the coldest days and I still feel that way. I’d love to bring my kids here and spend a few months or summers. I really love this city, so I’d say it’s one of my favorite travel memories, being near the [Chicago] River specifically. Then, there’s the music and the food, here. Oh, my gosh. And the people, I love the Midwestern hospitality.

Do you have a favorite food spot in Chicago?

I really enjoyed Frontera Grill. I think Rick Bayless is great. He knows what he’s doing. We just visited RPM Steak and I really enjoyed that experience. And then, Lou Malnati’s for some classic deep-dish pizza. You can’t go wrong in Chicago.

How would you apply “Substance Over Hype” to travel?

One of the things that is so unique about [Substance Over Hype] is the mosaic of people that we have. We have people from all over the world, every walk of life, ethnicity; it’s such a diverse group and everyone brings their diversity and culture to the group for creativity. As we get closer as a group of friends, beyond a group of artists, we travel together and visit where someone is from, and that opens up more creativity. There’s actually a huge parallel with travel with everyone being from so many different places.

So much of what we want to do is tell stories that showcase this mosaic or the braid of all this culture. Even in Dubai, getting to showcase that culture. In filming internationally, or anywhere we go, we definitely aren’t the westerners that want to go and find western culture. We want to go and show what’s beautiful about where we are.

Watch “Business Unusual:”

Watch the “Two Bellmen Two” Trailer