These kids might be growing up in tough places, but they don't want you to feel sorry for them — they want you to see their dance moves.
When it comes to seeing images of people in developing countries and war zones, we're all used to seeing "more of the ugly," said filmmaker Adam Sjöberg. But when he traveled the world, visiting Cambodia, Colombia, Uganda, and Yemen, the kids he met didn't want to focus on that.
The kids didn't want to talk about their hardships — they wanted to show off their dance moves.
So Adam shot a film about it. But he didn't just put their cool breakdancing skills on tape. He gave the kids the mic.
It grew into "Shake the Dust," a documentary that shows how breakdancing has changed the lives of children and teens living in poverty across four different countries.
On the streets of Kampala, Uganda, 12-year-old Karim Lokwa works hard at his breaking skills, even though his thumbs are conjoined on one hand. He's also the film's narrator.
He opens the film by saying:
"We have been told that the life of the street is all about survival. But we are doing more than just surviving. Our dream is to change the slums. "
"Hip-hop doesn't belong to any of our traditional cultures, but hip-hop brings us together as a family," added B-boy Abramz Tekya, the founder of Breakdance Project Uganda (B.P.U.).
"We know we can't dance our way out of poverty, but breakdancing fills our hearts with hope."
That's just one of the things Karim explains in the documentary. The filmmaker, Adam, broke down why their global connection with hip-hop is so strong. In an email interview, he told me:
"Many of the characters in this film have no real family to speak of ... but they all had such resilience. Breaking and hip-hop gave them power, reminded them that they have dignity. ... Without education, without my prompting, without any resources, they just see their world as having potential."
— Adam Sjöberg
And these talented hip-hop devotees aren't just talking about change — they're all about changing lives.
In Uganda, orphan Kaweesi Mark is the founder of Break-Fast, one of the largest breakdancing competitions in East Africa. He's also the finance chair of B.P.U., whose mission is "to engage young people in elements of the hip hop culture to build leadership skills and promote social responsibility."
Another B.P.U. member, Kibuuka Mukisa Oscar, who was raised alongside his four brothers by a single mom, helped shoot "Shake the Dust." Afterward, he "took a massive risk for a Ugandan — he got a micro loan for a nice camera. He began shooting on his own — obsessively," says Adam.
And it's changing lives. The 22-year-old now has shows in Europe and was recently profiled on The New Yorker's Instagram feed.
Kibuuka Mukisa Oscar @kibuukaphotography is 22 year-old photographer from Uganda. He documents Hip-Hop culture in Uganda. Kibuuka grew up with a single mother and his four siblings in Kampala. "Doing photography has made it possible for me to support my family, I am able to help my mother and pay my brothers school fees," he says. Kibuuka started doing photography through a youth program called Breakdance Project Uganda and he later started a visual arts program teaching photography and graffiti to kids. His slogan is "Just give a smile to the world." Kibuuka's trip to Addis Foto fest @addisfotofest was made possible by the Goethe Institute and the Moving Africa Program. " It's amazing for me to meet other photographers like Russell Fredrick @rfrederickphoto that documents culture in Brooklyn, and that inspires me with my own work because I am also documenting culture." Photo by @malinfezehai #uganda #ethiopia #addisphotofest #photographer
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As Adam readied for the L.A. premiere of "Shake the Dust," he was proud of the respectful story that the documentary tells.
"Because positivity isn't actually that hard to find when you look for it."
— Adam Sjöberg
My feelings exactly. Word. Up.