Global music has a few new faces. Their name is the African Children’s Choir, there are thousands of them and they are here to spread a message of joy and perseverance. Despite their impoverished backgrounds, they have truly become an international force for joy. Recently, the Technique had the opportunity to interview a representative from the choir, revealing some of the origins, meanings and emotions surrounding this special group.
So how did the choir first get started, and how has it expanded since then?
The African Children’s Choir, under the Parent Organization Music for Life, began in 1984 in Uganda, Africa during the brutal reign of Idi Amin that left hundreds of thousands of orphans homeless and hopeless. Our president and founder, Ray Barnett, was doing relief work in Uganda at that time and was inspired by the singing of a little Ugandan boy whom he had given a lift to in his car. The boy had lost both his parents and didn’t know where his next meal was going to come from, but he sang the entire journey with a joy and dignity that moved Ray Barnett deeply. Ray Barnett wanted to bring a group of children to the Western world so that everyone could see and hear the great promise and potential of Africa’s children. Since 1984, the work of the choir has expanded to seven African countries: Uganda, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda and the Sudan. The organization supports students in more than 35 schools in these countries and has educated over 52,000 children.
What was the goal in creating the first choir?
The first African Children’s Choir was selected from orphaned and vulnerable children in the Kampala and Luwero areas in Uganda, Africa in 1984. They traveled to North American church communities and impressed audiences with their vibrancy and outstanding musical talent. The choir became a mouthpiece for the plight of the many thousands of vulnerable children like them in Uganda. They showed the world that Africa’s most vulnerable children have beauty, dignity and unlimited ability. The funds they raised through donations provided for their own support and education. The funds also helped to fund the building of an orphanage back in Kampala, Uganda from where the second African Children’s Choir was selected.
In what type of music does the choir specialize, and how does it correspond to the overall message that the group stands for?
The African Children’s Choir specializes in traditional African songs and dances from many different parts of Africa. The Choir also performs original Englishlanguage songs as well as many hymnal, gospel and contemporary Christian songs such as “How He Loves Us,” “This Little Light Of Mine,” “I Love You Lord,” “Amazing Grace,” “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” and many more. These songs and dances show that despite their situations back home in Africa, these children are beautiful, joyful and inspired, through the choir, to make their home better.
In addition to offering a musical education, how else does the choir try to help its members?
The children are not members, like in a country club, but part of our family. As a family, the organization strives to provide the next generation with the best opportunities for breaking the cycle of poverty and illiteracy. With the help of sponsors and donors, the children’s education is provided for through University or Trade School. Prior to going on tour, the children train at The African Children’s Choir Training Academy, where the children learn songs, dances and attend school. After a choir has finished tour, the children then attend The African Children’s Choir Primary School in Entebbe, Uganda, near Lake Victoria. The organization not only helps the children in the choir but also children and communities throughout Africa with programs such as Teacher Training Colleges in Southern Sudan, AIDS education, literacy schools and Music for Life Centers that bring hope through music and dance education.
The choir has become quite a sensation over the years, touring all over the world. How do the children feel about being able to travel so much and spread their talents?
The children love seeing new places and meeting new people while on tour. They love learning new things and tasting new foods that they may have never been able to experience prior to being a part of The African Children’s Choir family. They enjoy performing for people who come to their concerts. They get so happy hearing the roar of the crowds, seeing the flashes from the cameras and seeing the tears of joy that they are able to bring to the audiences.
Why do you think music is an effective tool for helping these children?
Learning the songs and dances helps the children to learn teamwork, cooperation and determination to do their best. These skills are fundamental for them to become bright individuals who are inspired to make their home a better place for the next generation. Music transcends language. The emotion and message behind the music always comes through whether or not you speak English or Luganda. The joy in the children’s dances, the smiles on their faces and the sparkle in their eyes are felt and understood by all peoples regardless of where they come from. That’s the great thing about music: It teaches the children that we are all connected and through music they are able to bring hope and joy to people around the world.
The African Children’s Choir will be appearing in Atlanta on Sunday, Sept. 1, at Wieuca Road Baptist Church, and on Tuesday, Sept. 3, at Roswell United Methodist Church. Donations are welcome.