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Nabil Elderkin's Bouncing Cats
Revitalizing Uganda through Hip Hop. Photo Credit: Nabil Elderkin
All that slammin' hip hop you listen to, all those great beats you dance to, that wondrous thump that gives the rhythm for your rhymes? It wasn't spawned in New York City, nor was it born in Los Angeles.
Hip hop originated in Africa, hundreds of years ago. Tribal drums produced beats that would give DJ Premier a run for his money; ritual dancing laid the groundwork for breakdancing. Despite all the hardships of famine, war, genocide, civil unrest, and utter destruction the mother continent has faced, that soul, that beating heart of hip hop, remains strong.
Sure, we have RZA and Kanye. We have booming surround sound home theater systems, and car stereos that blast like portable dance clubs. Uganda has Bouncing Cats.
Bouncing Cats "is the sound made by the kids when they have no access to a boombox," explains photographer & filmmaker Nabil Elderkin. "Using 'bouncing cats, baboons and cats' in repetition, they create their own beat. When I heard it I was very taken by it."
A place ravaged by war is the last place you'd think to look for signs of music thriving, but Elderkin's new film - Bouncing Cats - shows that people in Uganda are not just embracing music, but using it to evolve as humans.
The movie focuses on a group called Breakdance Project Uganda, which was started in February 2006 out of the belief that hip hop can be used as a tool to engage and empower disadvantaged youth in Kampala and other areas of Uganda. BPU was founded by Abraham "Abramz" Tekya, an AIDS orphan who sought to help his community by teaching youth about b-boy culture.
As BPU grew in numbers, so did its recognition. Eventually, Abramz managed to get Richard "Crazy Legs" Colon of the Rock Steady Crew - one of the pioneers of breakdancing - to come out to Uganda for a visit, and help teach kids how to breakdance and find themselves through hip hop.
This is where Bouncing Cats comes in, following Crazy Legs on his journey to Uganda. While Crazy Legs initially talks about how growing up in New York during the '70s was the same as living in a "third world country," when he first starts exploring Uganda, you can tell the reality of true destitution hits him hard.
"I think it was definitely an eye-opening experience for them," Elderkin points out. But once Crazy Legs sees the people eager to learn moves from him, he catches his stride, and soon he and Abramz are headed across the country to spread the good b-boy word.
Bouncing Cats is a touching glimpse at Abramz making the most out of the little he was given in life, and his boundless determination to spread BPU through Uganda. His perseverance shines as a testament that you don't need to be born into wealth to live a fulfilling and monumental life. It's at times hard to watch, as Elderkin doesn't shy away from the harsh brutalities he comes across in his tale of Uganda, but in the end, Bouncing Cats is a story of genuine triumph.
The movie is running through the festival circuit, and has already won several awards, including "Outstanding Achievement in Documentary Filmmaking" at the Newport Film Festival. Elderkin says the audience reception has been "so far really great. I am proud to have been a part of the experience and hopefully the word spreads and people can see it on a mass level, and most importantly a center built for BPU, and for it to continue to grow."
The only thing the film lacks is seeing Nabil breakdance. "I am not a b-boy," he laments. "I was the kid at the school dances who wished he could break, that guy who was always the star of the lame dance circle. I got a few moves under wraps though...one day...I can moonwalk very well though."