Voices of hope rise in African Children’s Choir

The voices of children singing hopeful songs is inspiring. Since 1984, African Children’s Choir groups have been inspiring audiences around the world.

Eighteen children from Uganda will perform a free-admission concert 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at New Jerusalem Baptist Church, though donations are appreciated and will help in the choir’s mission to raise awareness of the need of destitute and orphaned children in Africa.

The vocalists are 7 to 11 years old, said Sarah Lidstone, North American choir operations manager for the Music of Life group, which oversees the choirs, two of which are touring North America. Many of them have lost one or both parents through war, famine or disease.

This group has been touring since April and will be on the road until January, when they return to a boarding school near Kampala in Uganda. The choirs come from seven African countries – South Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and South Africa.

Audiences can expect a cross section of music over 90 minutes.

“There’s a lot of African music that they sing in native languages, and they have beautiful costumes with a number of Ugandan cultural elements.

“There is also some cultural drumming and dancing. They will also sing gospel songs in English, like ‘This Little Light of Mine’ and ‘He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands.’ There will also be spirituals and other really beautiful music.”

A chaperone who is a former member of the choir accompanies the children. He will tell his story and talk about the choir and the program provided for him and his family, Lidstone said.

“The children will talk about what they want to be when they grow up. We really want to focus on where they’re going as opposed to where they came from. So we try to pour into them a positive message.”

When children are selected, they are not necessarily all from the same city. The choir members headed to Wichita Falls are all from Kampala and the surrounding communities.

They train for six months before the tour and then tour for about nine months.

“The No. 1 criteria is selecting children based on their need,” Lidstone said. “We are not looking for the most talented children, but those who need the help the most. All children have such a natural ability to learn music.”

The tour is a great way to expose children to new ways of seeing the world.

“Travel is healthy. They may see ways that may help their family, community, country. We see really beautiful adults who have come through the program.”

The Music of Life organization statement, she said, is to help Africa’s most vulnerable children today so they can help Africa tomorrow.

636141472399735640-african-childrens-choir1The choirs date back to when Canadian citizen Ray Barnett, from Vancouver, British Columbia, was travelling in Uganda in 1984 and helped a lost child. Since that time, the program has grown, with more than 52,000 children educated. Many have gone on to higher education.

The choirs have performed with groups as diverse as Queen and Our Lady Peace and have performed for U.S. presidents, English royalty and numerous international nonprofits.

“It’s both a spiritual and a cultural event,” she said. “It’s a real encouraging time, and people feel very uplifted by the end.”

The children travel with merchandise they bring with them so concert attendees can return home with a little piece of Africa.

While the choir will not be in Wichita Falls very long, the members of the group hope to see some of the local sites while they are here.

IF YOU GO

What: African Children’s Choir

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 18

Where: New Jerusalem Baptist Church, 1420 Borton St.

Information: 767-2067 or www.AfricanChildrensChoir.com

Admission: Free, but donations are welcome 

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