Hip-hop culture has infiltrated much of the world, but Adam Sjoberg‘s documentary takes you to places where you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to flourish. Documenting the breakdancing and hip-hop scenes in such disparate locales as Uganda, Cambodia, Yemen and Colombia, Shake the Dust provides ample evidence of it being a universal language. The film is currently receiving a national theatrical rollout, although it will likely find its largest audiences in home video formats.
More successful as travelogue than social commentary, the film nonetheless briefly explores the economic and social conditions of the spotlighted countries, lamenting the distortions of the mainstream media and letting many of its young performers have their say. But although they provide often moving accounts of their lives plagued by violence, drugs and poverty, they express themselves most eloquently through dance.
You’ve seen these moves before, but never in places like this
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That’s the raison d’etre of the film which follows in the footsteps of endless similarly themed hip-hop cinematic showcases. But what separates this one from the rest is the exoticness of the settings, with the energetic young people seen performing in ancient villages, overcrowded slums and barren mountaintops.
We’re introduced to such figures as the members of Tiny Toones, a Cambodian hip-hop group composed of children; B-boy Slick, who boasts that “I want to be known as the best at headspins in Cambodia”; and AJ, a DJ who left New York City twenty years years after being the victim of a drive-by shooting to move to, of all places, Yemen. One interview subject declares, “Hip-hop is like the soul of the people!”
Its soundtrack featuring music by the likes of Nas (who also executive produced), Talib Kweli and Common as well as a roster of international artists, the film features a dizzying array of performance scenes demonstrating that these far-flung practitioners are more than a match for anyone raised on the streets of the Bronx.
What the film lacks in terms of depth or narrative cohesion is made up for by the abundant energy and acrobatic prowess displayed by the street kids whose sheer joy in performing is as inspiring as it is infectious.
Production: Loose Luggage Media, Required Reading
Director: Adam Sjoberg
Producer: David Jacobson
Executive producers: Nasir “Nas” Jones, Matthew Shreder, James Andrew Felts, Sean Tabibian, Ira & Andrea Lippke, Ryan Millsap, Michael P. Gomez, Winn & Lindye Galloway
Editors: Mariana Blanco, Adam Sjoberg, Noam Kroll
Not rated, 85 min.