Directed by: Claire Dix
Starring: James Costello, William Lee
Release Date: 15th November
The young people of Ireland have never been considered to be connoisseurs of hip-hop. They may have a certain idea of the genre, but there is always a certain lack of empathy and a notable cultural divide.
Claire Dix’s documentary Broken Song, about hip-hop musicians from the suburbs of Dublin’s north side is, in essence, an attempt to bridge the cultural gap by exploring the art form in a place that is so instantly recognisable.
One of the most striking things about the subjects of the film is the sense of community among them. Rather than the self-aggrandising lyrics that rap is often associated with, these men are more interested in discussing their lives and struggles.
Their rap is their outlet for expressing their frustration with society. It’s also a bonding experience. Small groups congregate in fields and estates to listen as each takes their turn to vent.
They offer constructive criticism to their peers. Even when a little unimpressed by the subject of one boy’s lyrics, which can only be described as rap-as-porn, the focus is on his enthusiasm, his lyrical ability and on encouraging him to develop himself further.
Dix wisely focuses on two musicians in particular, William ‘Willa’ Lee and James Costello. As much as the film is about music, it is about these two men, their relationship with each other, and the different paths that they have taken in life.
Both share a passion for their music, but while Costello appears to have lived his life on the straight and narrow, Lee’s past is more complicated and still affects his present.
It is in the discussion of Lee and Costello’s journeys, and in illustrating the effect that their music has on them, that the film is at its strongest. We never hear the voice of the director or any interviewer; the subjects talk either to each other or directly to the audience.
Lee tells us that Costello is a kind of saviour to him, having entered his life at just the right time. He seems like a brother and father-figure rolled into one.
It’s frustrating to watch a man of such talent and passion for his music as Lee come close to letting control over his future slip away from him. It is Costello that is willing him to overcome his past, to change his behaviour and write the future that he wants for himself.
The music featured in Broken Song significantly shapes the story of these men, with the rappers’ song writing somewhat granting true access to their inner monlogues about the struggles of life in the Finglas and Ballymun.
Despite not balancing the audiences’ exposure to each rapper and failing to focus on the more interesting Lee, this documentary does have that interesting human interest angle that leaves people wanting more.
In a nutshell: Not just one for hip-hop fans. Broken Song gives comprehensive insight into the role music can play in the life of a troubled youth.