Bouncing Cats: not about funny kittens
Published: Friday, November 19, 2010
Updated: Sunday, March 20, 2011 18:03
Because of my undying love for feline-related videos, I was immediately excited to review a film entitled Bouncing Cats and interview the filmmakers. However, upon discovering that the title of the film referred to a Ugandan beatboxing technique instead of cute kittens, I was less enthusiastic. Due to my lack of interest in actually doing work and my self-diagnosed agoraphobia, I almost did not go to the screening - until I came across something that changed my mind on the spot. I was going to interview Bun B. I was down to ride, and thanks to my hypochondriasis-induced amnesia, I was able to forget about my aforementioned preoccupations.Much to my surprise, I walked away from the event not starstruck from meeting Bun B or the others associated with the film but with a fresh and inspired perspective of an unbelievable cause. While I had an interesting conversation with Bun B, I was awestruck by my time with Abraham Tekya.
The film is the story of how hip-hop and dance have been used as vehicles to change the lives of children in Uganda through a program called Breakdance Project Uganda. Abraham "Abramz" Tekya, the founder of the project and the focus of the film, credits social progress among youth to the development of hip-hop culture in his area. The film chronicles the successes and needs of the BPU program as well as the involvement of Crazy Legs and other members of the Rock Steady Crew, a prominent breakdance group founded in the early stages of hip-hop in New York City.
Given the chance to talk to Abramz one on one, I wanted to get a sense of what it took for something like BPU to emerge and how an American counter-culture like hip-hop made its way to Uganda. He told me that the program had been successful so far, but the film was a call to action.
"The film is more about action than awareness," Tekya said. "We need people to realize that something needs to be done. The work has just started for Uganda." I was humbled that this man had persevered through what many of us would consider a constant nightmare and still managed to exude a palpable positivity.
Growing up in an abusive home in Uganda, Tekya hardly had an ideal childhood himself.
"I lost both of my parents, and I became an orphan," he said. "Where I was staying I was being mistreated as a kid. They used to beat you all the time, scream at you. Whenever I was home I wouldn't speak because they used to show me that I knew nothing and that I couldn't amount to anything."
Things began to change when he fell in love with hip-hop after sneaking out to a rich neighborhood and finding videos of breakdancing.
"It became a part of me because I wasn't going to school," he said. "When I used to go out to other communities and started rapping and dancing, that's how people started looking at me as a different person. At home, people used to describe me as an orphan, but when I went there, people started to describe me as a breaker and a rapper."
This sensation of escaping through a newfound identity is a powerful theme throughout the film as well as BPU's success.
"That's why it's so powerful seeing kids in the film saying, 'I'm a b-boy,'" Tekya said. "When somebody else watches it, they don't know how deep that is, but that's like being reborn. Being reborn from being called an orphan or a child soldier or a robber."
Nabil Elderkin, the filmmaker behind Bouncing Cats, traveled to Uganda after hearing about Tekha and asked him about his inspirations. Elderkin returned to Uganda with one of Tekha's heroes, Crazy Legs, as a surprise contributor to the project.
"I said it, but it was my dream. I thought it was something so out of reach," Tekha explained, sitting next to Crazy Legs and smiling like they were old friends.
I asked Tekya where he wants this movement to go in the future.
"We want to build our own youth center and we want to make sure our children can remain in school. We want to use this film as a tool to raise awareness to show people how they can support."
Crazy Legs agreed that raising money for Ugandans was the major issue.
"They've got nothing, and they're still making it happen with nothing. They need money for transportation to school and for supplies for school. They need basic things that we take for granted."
Not impressed with American disinterest, Crazy Legs elaborated.
"Everybody's aware. Anybody that's not aware has more than likely turned their heads. Awareness means nothing if people aren't following up with action."
I was curious as to what they thought about someone like Bun B (who has a sponsorship deal with Red Bull North America, a producer of the film) coming out to support their film and their cause.
"The refreshing thing is that you had a rapper come in here and he wasn't a [expletive] idiot," Crazy Legs said. "That was nice to hear him speak. When it gets down to it, it's nice to know that his whole character is on point."
Yet even with a legend like Bun B in attendance, the point that they continued to push involved a sort of humanistic realism.
"They don't need a bunch of rap artists," Crazy Legs said. "They need human beings." Tekya held a similar view, noting that some of the biggest heroes in Uganda have nothing to do with hip-hop culture. "I'm using hip-hop because I'm a hip-hop artist, but there are people who rap and still don't care or break[dance] and still don't care."
To me, this was the most fascinating point. While a casual observer of the film might walk away with a sense that hip-hop is saving lives in Uganda, what's really saving them are the people and the funding behind projects like BPU. Sure, something like rapping or breakdancing helps - but Tekya and Crazy Legs weren't willing to give hip-hop the full credit.