African Children’s Choir celebrates celebrates 50th tour since founding

Grace Barnes

The first time Tina Sipp heard the African Children’s Choir perform, she knew she wanted to be a part of their mission.

After joining the organization as a volunteer tour chaperone, Sipp held various positions before she was appointed choir manager in 2015. Sipp said each time she hears the children sing, she feels the same way she did when she first saw them perform.

“I’ve never been particularly drawn to children per se, but the first time I saw them, I just knew I needed to know these children,” Sipp said.

The African Children’s Choir was founded in 1984 and has since been able to reach thousands of children affected by Uganda’s civil war. Each choir gives approximately 20 children the opportunity to perform around the world and receive schooling and mentorship, and a total of more than 50,000 children have been aided relief and education through this organization. After a tour has finished, a new choir is formed to begin the process all over again.

The renowned choir has performed alongside musicians such as Paul McCartney and Mariah Carey and has also appeared before Queen Elizabeth II. Celebrating their 50th tour from Africa since their founding, the choir will perform with a new program, “Just As I Am,” at two Austin venues on Dec. 5 and 9.

The performances feature a combination of African drumming and familiar hymns set to African rhythms. Sipp said when audiences watch the choir perform, they witness both the music and spirit of Africa.

“These children are gifted and bright. They just lack opportunity,” Sipp said. “It’s wonderful to put them in front of audiences and let the audience see not just their performance but the spirit of the children, their resiliency, their hope and their joy in spite of their circumstances.”

Performers are chosen for the choir through a selection process based on need and musical talent. They undergo six to eight months of training before embarking on the nine-monthlong tour, during which they continue their education. They then return to Uganda, where they attend the organization’s primary and secondary schools and continue to receive mentorship through college.

On tour, many of the children experience cultures outside their own for the first time. Jemima is nine years old and joined the choir in September. She said she’s always loved to sing and enjoys touring and performing with the choir.

“My favorite part of the performances is when we come out with the drums, and on the tour, I’ve gotten to try out different foods that I’ve never tasted,” Jemima said.

Tour leader Jade Powers joined the choir in April, and she and her husband serve as a host family for the organization. She said it was the choir’s mission that made her want to be a part of the organization.

“I have never been involved in choir, but I really loved the vision,” Powers said. “I loved what they were doing with the children back home, and the idea that they are raising up the next generation of Africa and change-makers of Africa.”