BOUNCING CATS: Breakin Ground

In Uganda beats and rhymes are a matter of choosing life over death.

Words: Kristie Bertucci
Images: Courtesy of Red Bull Media House

We’ve all heard the stories of how Hip-Hop culture changed the lives of its greatest emcees. Not only did it provide an outlet for expression, but it also helped them get off the streets, out of the drug game and provided us fans, with some amazing music. Like with Biggie, Pac and many before (and after) them, Hip-Hop saves lives.

Sure, over the years the culture has transformed itself into a luxury-driven lifestyle for the most part and has transgressed its original base, but its roots are still alive and well in other parts of the world. In the poverty and war stricken country of Uganda is a story of hope, with Hip-Hop and its B-boy movement at the very core of an inspirational tale.

Thanks to the efforts of Abraham “Abramz” Tekya, a Ugandan B-boy and orphan living with AIDS, Breakdance Project Uganda (BPU) was born in 2006. Through BPU, Abramz uses hip-hop and break-dancing as a unifying medium to create a better life for the children of the marginalized communities of Uganda. His inspiration: his older cousins who are self-professed hip-hop heads; music videos from the 80s and early 90s that featured artists like A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, De la Soul, Brand Nubian, Chubb Rock, Philly Bongoley Lutaaya, and of course, B-boys such as Boogaloo Shrimp and Crazy Legs of the Rock Steady Crew.

Enter photographer, music video director and filmmaker Nabil Elderkin, who’s interest was sparked when he first became aware of the selfless aims of BPU. What resulted is an amazing documentary, Bouncing Cats, which follows Abramz and his journey to truly making a difference in his country.

“I became involved with the project after a trip to Northern Uganda with Oxfam GB [a UK-based charity that fights global poverty],” Elderkin describes. “My friend, Claire Lewis, who works for Oxfam, facilitated the trip for me. She had known Abramz and what BPU was doing with the youth in Uganda. Hip-hop, and music in general, are a big part of my life and work, and I felt inspired by their project.”

Narrated by Common and featuring interviews with the likes of will.i.am and K’Nann, Bouncing Cats documents the life-changing opportunities afforded to the youth of both South and North Uganda via Abramz and his crew. “Hip-hop was all I had,” Abramz notes in the documentary. “And I wanted to share it with my people.” Poverty, disease, and a brutal, mindless war—conflict between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the region have divided families, displaced millions and led to the abduction and mutilation of thousands of children, resulting in the deterioration of their identity and culture.

Abramz organizes his break-dancing sessions each week in different parts of the country where children walk from miles away just to attend. The project was built on the mission to provide free break-dancing classes, which are currently offered at the Sharing Youth Centre, Kampala, and the Gulu Youth Centre and TAKS Art Centre in Gulu.

As Abramz says, “This is where many people’s pride is. It’s a skill that no one can take away from us.” Wanting the kids to really understand the roots of the culture, the documentary also features Crazy Legs of the legendary Rocks Steady Crew, as he visits Uganda to see the work Abramz has done. For Legs, the visit became more than just showing the kids how to break-dance or to teach them new moves. Instead it was an eye-opening experience that truly touched the legendary B-boy.

“I see a hunger for learning,” he says in the film during his first days at the center where more than a 100 eager kids and teens gather to meet him. While a bit overwhelmed by the attention, Legs marvels at the innocence he sees in the Uganda kids, something he says he hasn’t seen in the culture stateside for years. His travels only further fuels the emotional roller-coaster you’ll feel while watching the film, which becomes both heartbreaking and inspirational simultaneously.

Throughout the documentary, graphic imagery depicting life in Uganda tear at your soul. Then once you delve deeper into the lives of the youth positively impacted by the efforts of BPU, you’ll remember your own journey through hip-hop. You’ll meet Alfred Otim from Gulu town in Northern Uganda, who’s family was forced to move to Gulu town after his father passed away during the height of the devastating conflict between Museveni’s government and the LRA. BPU travels there, to the North, hoping to unite both halves of the country, providing Otim and others in the region (most affected by the LRA) the chance to escape their harsh world through dance.

Throughout Bouncing Cats, aptly named for the thundering claps Abramz has and what BPU members do to make beatbox-like sound for dancers to break to, you too will become inspired by the true inner power that hip-hop culture can generate.

“I hope that this film will inspire people to go out and get involved in a project that will positively affect the lives of others wherever inspiration is drawn,” Elderkin says. “I hope BPU, in the near future, can build a center in Kampala and Gulu where they can practice, as well as have access to computers where they can interact with other kids all around the world through the Internet; a lot of the kids are already on Facebook.”

Elderkin, originally a photographer from Australia, is currently the go-to man for stark cinematic imagery in the urban world. Responsible for many of Kanye West’s music videos (think “Coldest Winter” and the mini film noir for “Paranoid,” which featured Rihanna), Mos Def’s “Supermagic,” John Legend’s “PDA,” and Nas and Damian Marley’s “Patience” just to name a few. With an undeniable eye for film, his music videos are more like epic shorts full of astounding visuals that make the music come to life. With Bouncing Cats, his unique abilities for capturing humanity and culture untainted are fully realized.

For those interested in supporting the work of BPU, donations can be made through the organization’s fiscal sponsor The Voice Project via the Bouncing Cats site at http://www.bouncingcats.com/donate. Donations are 100% tax deductible. Proceeds go directly to Break-dance Project Uganda to continue its mission to empower and positively inspire youth through Hip-Hop. Abramz also hopes to one day build a permanent center for BPU.

Official Web Site: http://www.bouncingcats.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/bouncingcats
Twitter: http://twitter.com/bouncingcats

Images courtesy of Red Bull Media House.

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