Bright colors, vibrant beats and contagious joy flood the room as the African Children’s Choir performs, and their boundless energy is heading to Western Carolina University Jan. 28.
The children from Uganda are eager to educate the audience with cheerful songs and theatrical moments as they share their culture in song and dance with a spirit of hope despite their hardships.
The choir is comprised of vulnerable and needy children, many who are orphans and have lost their parents to poverty and disease.
During Uganda’s bloody civil war in 1984, human rights activist Ray Barnett was compelled to help thousands of orphans and starving children who were abandoned and helpless.
Determined to share the dignity, beauty and unlimited ability of the children he met, Barnett created the choir 25 years ago after hearing a small boy sing. Barnett’s goal was to help the children break away from the cycle of poverty and despair.
Initially, the children traveled from Uganda to tour North American church communities, and now they perform internationally in many different venues, secular and sacred.
While touring the impoverished African children are exposed to a world of new possibilities.
The first proceeds of the choir’s tour funded an orphanage in Kampala, Uganda from which the second African Children’s Choir was chosen.
To date over 700 orphaned and needy children have shared their voices of joy and hope through the African Children’s Choir.
Former choir child
Among those voices was Prossy Nakiyemda who sang in the choir in 1995 at the age of 12.
Prossy means “preparation for Good Friday” in Luganda, and now at the age of 25 she is the music director of the African Children’s Choir.
She sings two solos during the concert including “Shadowland,” from the musical “The Lion King” as well as a South African song.
After two years in the choir, she completed her primary level of education and was chosen to go on tour again in high school.
In 2006, she graduated with a degree in journalism and creative writing.
Working as the musical director her duties include teaching 14 girls and 12 boys ranging from ages 8 to 10 to educate the audience about Africa through song and choreography.
There have been changes in the choir since Nakiyemda first performed. With so many differences in the music industry, the choir has become a more theatrical production, Nakiyemda said.
In their performance the children demonstrate how six different African nations dance, sing and dress. Nakiyemda noted the children share “this is how Uganda dances” as well as “beautiful, colorful and joyous costumes.”
Nakiyemda has met a smorgasbord of who’s who among her travels including President George W. Bush as well as first lady Laura Bush several times at the White House.
Nakiyemda has met Bill Clinton among other celebrities including Wyclef Jean, Shakira, Michael W. Smith and Mariah Carey.
The choir has recently recorded songs with Smith, and Nakiyemda was very excited to meet Carey having listened to her songs since she was a teen.
The singing selection
Before being chosen to be a part of the choir, the children attend a Music for Life camp.
Camp activities include games, crafts, music and devotions providing them a break from the daily adversity, including disease and poverty, they face at home.
As the children are selected, the choir teams visit their homes to better understand their needs and suitability for the tour.
After choosing the next group of children who will perform in the choir, the members spend about five months at the Choir Training Academy in Kampala, Uganda where they learn the songs, dances they will perform as well as attend school and church and play.
During their time at the academy, the children’s personalities and talents blossom as they are cared for in an environment that fosters knowledge and freedom of expression.
Breaking the cycle of poverty, the choir is committed to helping the children succeed physically, spiritually, emotionally and academically.
Many former choir members are teachers, doctors, and business professionals.