Film explores hiphop as a bridge between East and West

March 02, 2011

Three Northwestern University in Qatar students have won wide recognition for a documentary they produced on Arab hiphop.

The students –Rana Khaled (BSJ 12), Shannon Farhoud (BSJ 12) and Ashlene Ramadan (BSJ 12) – have been profiled in the Gulf Times and on the Doha Film Institute’s website thanks to the work they did on Broken Records, a documentary that profiles hiphop artists from around the Arab world.

A class assignment to create a multimedia story about an interesting person helped give birth to the project. The students started out by contacting and interviewing Fouad, a Palestinian rapper who lives in Doha. After completing the initial interview, however, the students recognized the potential for a bigger story.

“Our idea was that there might be this whole (Arab hiphop) culture that no one knew about,” Farhoud (BSJ 12) said in an interview with DFI.

Indeed, a thriving culture is just what the students found. They reported on hiphop artists and culture from around the region, exploring all of hiphop’s facets – from rappers and MCs to B-Boys and graffiti artists.

After completing the short film on Fouad they quickly gained gained access to internationally-known rappers Narcysist and Omar Offendum.

“It started out as a 10 minute documentary, then it grew to 30 minutes,” said Farhoud.

The film explores the political and human stories of the Middle East through hiphop. It acknowledges that hiphop and Arab culture frequently seem to have competing values, but eventually argues that the two have more commonalities than differences.

“There’s already a very healthy respect for poetry and spoken word in the Middle East,” Offendum said in the film. “It’s already part of our culture, so I think the younger generation recognizes that and they see what we’re doing as hiphop artists as a continuation of that.”

Both artist and flimmakers see hiphop as a means to bridge the gap between the Middle East and the West.

“I’ve tried to use (hiphop) to express myself,” Offendum said. Westerners, and Americans in particular, are already familiar with hiphop, which helps them to see the similarities in human existence, he said.

“You know, we live our lives there just like Westerners do,” Offendum told the filmmakers. “By seeing us express ourselves in an art form that they already understand as Americans … that makes us not as foreign.”

Broken Records premiered at a live event on February 8 that featured performances by the artists profiled in the film.

With the addition of a live event, the project proved to be an opportunity for the students to put many of the skills they learned at Northwestern to use – video production, public relations, and marketing.

The marketing of the event was so successful that the line for premier snaked out the doors to the Education City Student Center auditorium.

Farhoud, Ramadan, and Khaled are pleased with the reaction their film project received.

“We’ve gotten emails from local artists who want to be involved in our next project,” said Khaled.

But fans of hiphop will have to wait for the next project.

“We need to recover from all the work to produce this one,” joked Khaled.

For additional coverage of Broken Records, including in National Geographic and USA TODAY College please click here.

Related Link:’s Rage, Rap and Revolution: Inside the Arab Youth Quake.