When you hear Uganda, what do you think about? Genocide, suffering, machetes, and burning villages come to mind. Images on news channels have shown dead bodies of all ages lining the fields. You may have heard of child soldiers and ruthless exploitation and deprivation of its people. However, Bouncing Cats, directed by Nabil Elderkin, an awe-inspiring documentary, tells a story of triumph in the midst of astronomical tragedy. The film, currently on the film festival circuit is creating a buzz around the effects of hip hop on disadvantaged youth. The name of the film, Bouncing Cats is the phonetic translation for the rhythm of the drum they use for music while they dance.
The film chronicles one native Ugandan man’s attempt to uplift the children of Uganda through hip hop and break dance. Narrated by rapper Common, and featuring interviews with Will.I.Am and K’Naan, the story follows legendary Crazy Legs of the Rock Steady Crew and b-boy Abramz, the founder of Breakdance Project Uganda (BPU). The film journeys through Uganda’s slums and weaves a thread of hope and inspiration amongst the children there who become students of BPU for a chance to learn a better way of life through self-expression.
As a response to the desolation caused by civil war in the country, and out of a heart that has compassion for the children of the country, Ugandan b-boy Abraham “Abramz” Tekya began teaching free dance classes to the youth in the slums of southern Uganda and eventually in the Northern war-torn region. As a means to speak the language of the youth, hip hop and break-dancing became a way for Abramz to unify, empower, and heal the communities he served. With a credo that everyone is a student and a teacher, Abramz teaches classes to the youth and charges each student to teach other children in their community, thereby spreading the hip hop culture of shared purpose through music and dance.
The film starts with a history lesson complete with maps of Uganda and heartbreaking images that usually define the country’s plight. As the viewer learns that Abramz is himself an AIDS orphan and unemployed, he is reminded that each of us is able to help his fellow man. With nothing more than his ability to dance, Abramz sets out to inspire the youth around him, and he has succeeded. Some of the free dance workshops look like places where free food is given out.
Literally hundreds line the streets, and there is an overflow of prospective students outside of the already overcrowded buildings where the classes are taught. This kind of influence is probably what attracted one of the originators of break dancing, The Rock Steady Crew’s Crazy Legs and YNot to make a visit to Uganda to teach with BPU. One of the students who was able to make it into BPU explains the importance of dancing and its impact on his life, “When I dance, I don’t think of the past, I think of the future.”
As Crazy Legs ventures with Abramz to the desolation of daily life many of the dancers experience, he is moved to tears. He asks one of the residents if she feels that they are being exploited by filming their troubles. Her answer is no. She says that maybe if someone can see how they live, they can help. In another part of the film, Abramz charges prospective students to show him a traditional dance of their tribe. A group of 50 or so youth proceeds to perform a tribal dance hundreds of years old.
As the rhythm plays, and the dances go forth, Crazy Legs is wowed and his response is that Hip Hop owes Africa, that this is where Hip Hop started. As he marveled at the beats, the dancing, and the spirit of overcoming through self-expression that they had, he was overcome with emotion.
And while Abramz’ powerful mission to promote social responsibility through dance cannot solve the daily challenges of poverty, food shortages, or expensive basic education, the inspiration of the youth that results is a conduit to change. K’Naan said it best, “It’s not a practical solution, but it is the path to a practical solution.”
To learn more about the film and find possible screenings in your area, visit the film's website.