Art, Culture, Books and Travel

African Children’s Choir: Using music, dance and drama to get an education

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Often times, when people see Ugandan children of various ages on a stage – out of the country, say in Europe or USA – dressed in uniform, singing gospel songs, and dancing, the assumption is that it is Watoto Children’s Choir (WCC). That is how African Children’s Choir (ACC) have found themselves being labelled Watoto Children’s Choir a number of times, the latest being the time they performed during Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London.

The fact that both are African children’s choirs, with a similar age group and type of music they sing, is the major reason for the confusion, Ibrahim Kiyingi, the programme coordinator of ACC explains.

“We are both Christian organisations, both looking after children, both after the cause of helping the African child and empowering them through education. I think that’s why people confuse us,” he adds.

Kiyingi is among the beneficiaries of this Christian-founded organisation, which began on the premise of majorly helping the disadvantaged from Africa’s less fortunate homes and suburbs.

“After the loss of both my parents I was chosen to join. I went to school and graduated as a computer software engineer. I came back to help,” Kiyingi said as he prepared the 24-member group who performed at a concert at Hotel Africana, during the Tumani Awards gala night.

The organisation is all fruition of efforts by Ray Barnett, an Irish minister, who travelled to Uganda in 1984 to see, first-hand, what he could do to alleviate the suffering of children in post –Idi-Amin Uganda.

Barnett says he was inspired by the singing of one small boy, who was to lead a legacy of choirs that have now travelled the world and grown in number, 39 to be exact, since 1984.

“We formed the first ACC to show the world that Africa’s most vulnerable children have beauty, dignity and unlimited potential,” Barnett explains his objective in starting the choir.

His dream has come true. Over the years the children’s choir has made its mark in the west, singing and representing Uganda on international stages with gospel and traditional music, even sharing the stage with international artistes.

A little known choir, formed in 1984, of selected orphans and vulnerable children is now an international brand.

Nine-year-old Julius Mugambya tells how he joined. “I joined ACC in 2008 when I was six years old. They were choosing children to join the choir so I was lucky to be chosen from Mityana. I am a dancer and vocalist. They chose me because I had the right attitude they were looking for,” he explains.

And what might the right attitude be? Scott Lambie, says that they are grooming the children to be leaders so they need to have the capacity to be such.

The opportunity to join found Lydia Inzikuru in church. “I joined in 2008 from Arua. I was at church when a group came and said they wanted 11 children from Arua. We went for practice and I was chosen. And we came to Kampala,” the 11-year-old pupil recounts.

She adds, “We trained for nine months and then we went to America. I love America because we travelled for one year and came back to school. I go to school at the ACC School in Entebbe. I am a singer. Before I joined, I didn’t know about Jesus but now I have learned and embraced Christ.”

The African Children’s Choir covers seven African countries, namely, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Nigerian, Rwanda and South Sudan

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