The South Bronx in the late 1970s was the apotheosis of urban decay: the borough was rampant with hopelessness and riddled with countless abandoned buildings that were oftentimes aflame. New York City was in total chaos and, while the rest of the world neglected it all, hip-hop culture was born. Its art and influence has since gone global. In the triumphant new film, Shake the Dust, journalist-turned-filmmaker Adam Sjöberg chronicles the worldwide influence of breakdancing through the lens of b-boy crews from four very different countries— Yemen, Colombia, Cambodia and Uganda.
As someone who “loves hip-hop,” Sjöberg explains, “I started typing into YouTube, ‘Breakdancers in Gaza’ and ‘Breakdancers in Africa’ and I found these vibrant hip-hop communities everywhere.” Digging deeper, the director found that “hip-hop really was a culture that was giving people a sense of self esteem” at all corners of the world. It was then that Sjöberg settled on breakdancing as the focus of his newest film. “I wanted to tell a story that allowed them to be the voice, but telling a story of dignity and beauty out of a place of struggle.”
Soon after, Sjöberg met Nas, who came on board as the executive producer. “Nas is one of the greatest MCs of all time, someone who cares very deeply about storytelling and he’s also been a huge supporter of protecting hip-hop history.”
Shake the Dust weaves together stories of unknown b-boy crews along with hard-core household names such as the Rock Steady Crew and the New York City Breakers. There’s the Tiny Toones crew in Cambodia; Bogota’s Kings of the Floor Crew; the Rock‘N’City crew hailing from Yemen; and in Kampala, the Breakdance Project Uganda. “One of the great things about breakdancing in particular is that it is by nature improvisational,” says Sjöberg. “Whether that’s Africa or Colombia or the Middle East, all of these places have their own rich, cultural background and they bring it to their dance moves.”
BY DERRICK HEMPHILL