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New to VOD - CASABLANCA BEATS

casablanca beats review
A former rapper turned teacher inspires the students of a cultural centre.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Nabil Ayouch

Starring: Ismail Adouab, Nouhaila Arif, Samah Barigou, Abdelilah Basbousi, Anas Basbousi

casablanca beats poster

Did hip-hop save my life? Tricky to say. It’s difficult to imagine an existence without it. Here’s the thing about being infatuated with hip-hop, with growing up obsessed with the culture and the music: it was an essential education. Firstly, any of those '90s albums, with their dense collage of sample and loops and interpolations (until that snitch Gilbert O’Sullivan went and spoiled it all) were an entrée to further realms of musical excitements and styles. 3 Feet High and Rising uses 60 samples, Paul’s Boutique references 105 songs: any of those albums were like a mini miscellany of music in general, introducing the naïve listener by proxy to funk and soul, but also yacht rock and hardcore punk, with the overriding catholic credo that this was all music, wonderful music, and it was all fair game and there were no snide distinctions to be parsed between sounds and rhythms. It brought culture closer, made it all seem so accessible. And evidently, hip-hop was (and still can be) instructive in other, more important ways too; as Black CNN (©Chuck D), a view upon the world which Overton’s window pointed away from, offering an urgent representation of American black experience (let’s not forget MTV’s shady history of not featuring black artists throughout its first decades.) Congruously, there is the abiding importance of hip-hop as an accessibly creative force, the ethos that with the right passion and will to commit, anyone can turn their hand, voice, body or mind to one of the five pillars. There is no other music where the bond between culture and art is so immediate. If hip-hop did not save my life, then it enhanced it beyond measure.

casablanca beats review

Hip-hop as salvation is a credo which pulses deep within Nabil Ayouch (director, screenplay) and Maryam Touzani’s (co-writer) Casablanca Beats’ big bass heart. In this Moroccan set drama, Anas (Anas Basboussi, irl performer Bawss: impossibly handsome) is an ex-rapper who rocks up at a community art centre to kick the truth to the Maghrebi youth, via tuition of hip-hop stylings. His class is a motley group of potentially talented but unprivileged children across a range of ages, both male and female, who come together to write, beatbox, dance and create music.


Casablanca Beats is a reassertion of hip-hop as a unifying force and an important artistic conduit. Although there are plot concessions in the film - Anas comes up against a stuffy headmistress figure, homelives are restrictive - essentially Casablanca Beats forges a narrative rhythm from scenes of the (utterly charming) kids as they perform, mess up, and, crucially, realise their capacity through dedication and trust (a lovely visual touch is how the class slowly fix up throughout the film, with their D.A.I.S.Y. Age drip and the hair gradually getting smarter/flyer as the self-respect increases).

casablanca beats review

It's consistent, too, that within a film so based upon hip-hop culture, Casablanca Beats seems to sample tropes from similarly themed movies: Sidi Moumen is akin to the dance-phobe town in Footloose with its conservative approbation towards the rappers; the joyously innocent sequences of kids killing it in the music room recall School of Rock; and the end has a lovely kids from Fame feel (a film that, it bears reiteration, in its pre-telly incarnation was gritty AF). Why not? The shared culture is for everyone, and Casablanca Beats uses these available tropes to set its own cadences, to forge its own idiosyncrasy. Furthermore, while pop culture may be open to all, an underlying theme of Casablanca Beats is the restrictions which these children otherwise face, from societal hegemonies to religion, family et al. Hip-hop, immediate and kinetically expressive, is a tool of empowerment here, with the performed rhymes referencing how the kids see themselves within the communal contexts of Casablanca. Musical daydream sequences visualise both the fresh ambition of the class, and their desire to actualise. The personal becomes political.

casablanca beats review

A postscript: after the screening of Casablanca Beats, I was fortunate enough to see a Q&A about the film and hip-hop culture in general. One of the guests was the great Jason Camilleri, a man whose importance to the Welsh rap scene cannot be overstated. There was discussion about how, due to the gatekeeping of major labels with commercial agendas and vested ideologies, the music has wandered from its subversive roots, and the ability to educate along with entertain (via his work with young people, Camilleri is a real-life Anas). Within this loaded framework, a film like Casablanca Beats, with its focus on music as enlightenment and inspiration and salvation, becomes vital.

Casablanca Beats is on UK/ROI VOD now.