Last night we headed across town to a church that was hosting a [free] performance by the Watoto Children’s Choir. The choir is made up of a group of children who live within the Watoto orphanages. (Watoto means “the children” in Swahili.)

Gary and Marilyn Skinner formed a collection of homes to deal with the growing orphan problem in Uganda. They build a house, install a house mother (sometimes an AIDS widow) and give her up to eight children to care for. The Watoto village model also provides for the education and medical care of the children.

The Watoto Children’s Choir tours the world, raising awareness (and funds) to support the work of the Skinners in Uganda. David and I worked with an orphanage group in Liberia in 1999, and we’re very cynical about these sort of charities. We understand that the children are in great need, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation, and we wealthy, white Westerners are suckers for big eyes in a grimy face.

So when David and I were preparing to hear the choir’s performance, we knew that we would be assaulted with guilt-ridden pleas for money, assistance and sponsorship. We knew it was likely that they would be pushing their merchandise, and we made a determination not to allow ourselves to be manipulated. If we decide we want to help, we can always sign on later via the website.

Aisha, 5yo, David, Delaney, 3 months old, Brioni, 3yo, + Calista, 2yo, April 2010
We arrived early and nabbed front-row seats.

Brioni, 3yo, + Calista, 2yo, April 2010
For a little while, Calista thought she may like to sit on Brioni's lap.

After the introduction (which included lots of drumming), when the music started, I was unprepared for my reaction. The song was in a soukous style, evocative of the music I grew up with in West Africa. (The music style is also called kwassa kwassa from a popular song in that style, do you want me to sing it for you?)

Upon hearing the familiar beat and repetitive electric guitar riff, I was overwhelmed with grief, to the point where my eyes teared up. “This is ridiculous,” I thought. “Why am I crying?” I’m still not sure why the familiar sounds made me want to weep. Is it because I can’t return to my childhood haunts? Am I mourning my personal loss of the African culture which surrounded me until I was nineteen?

After I composed myself (it’s not appropriate to cry at a cheerful concert like this one), I regretted our front-row seats. I wanted to stand up and dance, but I would have been very obvious. (And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s standing out in a crowd!)

Watoto children's choir, April 2010
The group of colourfully-dressed children sang along to backing tracks in both English and Ugandan.

Watoto children's choir, April 2010
I was very impressed with the tireless enthusiasm of the choir director. Her name is Violet, and this was her first tour.

Watoto children's choir, April 2010

Brioni was delighted to recognise “Jesus loves me” when one boy started singing it in a Ugandan language. David and I still aren’t sure which language they were singing in. It could have been Swahili, but I’m not certain.

Watoto children's choir, April 2010

Watoto children's choir, April 2010

Watoto children's choir, April 2010
A couple of adults accompany the children on their tour and sing solo numbers.

Before the concert was over, I did get a chance to stand up and dance when we were invited to participate. (David caught it on video, so no doubt it will feature on the compilation he put together.) Now I feel like shuffle-dancing to Kanda Bongo Man for the rest of the week!

Watoto children's choir, April 2010
The African faces in the audience outnumbered the white ones.

The choir is touring Queensland for the rest of this month, so if you’re local, you still have many opportunities to see them perform. Other choirs are also touring around other parts of the world, and you can discover if they’re visiting your hometown here.

Here’s our compilation of last night’s show: