Destiny Africa Children’s Choir shares music in Woodstock

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Woodstock - posted Mon., Nov. 11, 2013
(L to r) Reagan, Teaga and Mary at the concert rehearsal. Photos by D. Coffey.
(L to r) Reagan, Teaga and Mary at the concert rehearsal. Photos by D. Coffey.

The Destiny Africa Children’s Choir came to Hyde Cultural Center on Nov. 5. Sponsored by the Woodstock Educational Foundation and the Woodstock PTO, the 18-member ensemble charmed a nearly full house with their songs and energetic dance moves. With a complement of drums, guitars and vocalists, the youngsters sang and danced their hearts out. 

The visit by the chorus also exposed students, staff and concert-goers to the harsh realities most of the children had lived through. Uganda is a poor country. Millions have suffered, many at the hands of a rebel group led by Joseph Kony, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands. It’s estimated that 100,000 have been killed. Children have been turned into slaves and soldiers.

Students from the Woodstock Middle School seventh- and eighth-grade chorus joined the DA Choir for the opening song. With more than 80 children on stage, they sang “Banuwa,” a Liberian folk song. Its simple refrain combined with the swinging and clapping of hands was mesmerizing.

After the Woodstock students left the stage, the Destiny Africa Choir filled it with high-intensity dance and joyful song for nearly two hours. Their repertoire included songs and dances from some of the 156 different cultures in Uganda. The girls wore their hair in thin braids. When they swung their heads, their hair became part of the dance. The boys danced with hoes and sticks in some of the numbers, using the props as instrument. Some of the dancers wore obulibas, sections of cow skin that accentuated their dance moves.

WMS music director Maria Wood said that many Ugandan traditions treats dancing and music almost as one thing. She called the concert a healthy experience for the middle school performers, school and community. “Music is a universal language,” she said. “It exposed us to a whole other tradition of music.”

Acording to DA music director Herbert Mashami, there are 2.5 million orphans in Uganda. Ninety percent of those in his chorus are orphans as well. The chorus grew out of the Kampala Children’s Center when a housemother and several children started to sing together. That center now houses 120 orphans. They have established a community of hope, Mashami said, that reaches more than 300 children in the neighboring area.

“We are building bridges,” he said. “We are trying to raise awareness so people can support us in our transformation.” The proof was on stage that evening, as the children shared their names and their dreams for the future. Two boys wanted to be pilots, three girls wanted to be doctors. Others wanted to be teachers and musicians.

“It’s a most important thing to share music,” Mashami said. “Exchanging music and ideas is powerful. We are calling for peace and freedom. We believe we have a voice.” 

Woods and her students had practiced the music and moves since the beginning of the school year. It was putting it all together in one dress rehearsal that was particularly challenging. The students joined the DA chorus on the first and last song of the concert. The last was “Waka, Waka (This Time for Africa),” the official 2010 FIFA World Cup song. It is a rousing, high-spirited, joyful song based on a traditional African soldier’s song.

Mashami invited audience members to join the two choruses. With hands and arms waving, the students and their guests closed out the concert. “I think this will have a lasting impact on our students,” Woods said. “It certainly did on me.”

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