By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The African Children’s Choir has a habit of bringing joy to people, especially those seeing it for the first time.
Comprised of talented kids age 8 to 10, the choir sings and dances to the traditional melodies of Africa, as well as contemporary tunes. It blends harmony, youthful energy and sweet voices, all wrapped in colorful native garb.
But it’s the spirit and cheerfulness of the youngsters — each of whom has known tremendous hardship — that melts hearts across the globe.
The choir is in the midst of a U.S. tour that will bring it to St. Charles Borromeo Church in Boardman on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. performance.
Joseph Mukasa of Uganda is a chaperone accompanying the choir. In a phone interview last week from a tour stop in North Carolina, he talked about the young singers and the reaction they inevitably receive.
“We began on July 15, and the kids are enjoying it,” he said. “There have been lots of wonderful performances and standing ovations. All the time the audience responds to it, and every day [a special moment] pops into my mind. People who see it for the first time are blown away.”
Children are handpicked for the choir from several countries with the help of churches, who identify talented youngsters from struggling families. Many have lost one or both parents to war or disease.
The children who are selected must be in good health and not prone to being homesick, Mukasa explained.
After the tour stop in North Carolina, the choir was to head north to Baltimore, where the children would see snow for the first time in their lives. “They are excited about it,” said Mukasa.
At shows, the choir utilizes African drums in delivering unique versions of gospel songs and pop standards, including “Amazing Grace” and “This Little Light of Mine.”
“It is cute, and their spirits are high and they have hope,” said Mukasa, who noted the tour has a life-changing effect on the youngsters. “If only this could be done by every child in Uganda or Kenya,” he said. “It opens their minds. They are changed forever.”
The choir ensures a complete education for each former member.
The African Children’s Choir was founded in 1984 by Ray Barnett, an American human-rights activist who was helping orphaned and starving children in Uganda.
It immediately impressed audiences and came to represent the plight of the children in the central African nation. The choir mounts annual tours in the United States, Canada and Great Britain.
The Mahoning Valley performance is being sponsored by 10 local Catholic parishes: Christ Our Savior, Struthers; Holy Family, Poland; Immaculate Heart of Mary, Austintown; St. Patrick, St. Christine and St. Angela Merici, Youngstown; St. Charles and St. Luke, Boardman; St. Michael, Canfield; and St. Paul, New Middletown, along with local businesses and individual parishioners.