Nobody chooses to join the Watoto Children's Choir. The steep price of admission is to have lost one or both parents to the AIDS epidemic or during the war in Uganda. But taking part in the choir does offer a way out of hopelessness for these talented but vulnerable children.
Blending native African rhythms, contemporary gospel music and ethnic dance, the touring choir of between 18 and 22 children helps build awareness for the plight of Africa's orphans. Turns out, they've also developed quite the catchy sound and contemporary Christian artist Chris Tomlin asked them to sing on his fifth studio album, Hello Love.
"That was a fun experience to partner with Chris Tomlin. He is a phenomenal worship leader. For the kids to be in his presence and learn from him, they really, really enjoyed that," says Kelsie Nussel, who coordinates communications for the Watoto USA Office.
And, like all of the other boy bands that have gone before, children do rotate in and out of the choir, one that has been touring for 25 years. Nussel tells us that after a tour, those performers will step away and let other children take their place. Those who are especially gifted vocalists and dancers are given solos and spotlight moments.
The Watoto Children's Choir has performed at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant in the United Kingdom, made numerous stops at the White House, and for the Parliaments of the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. Now they're swooping through Texas on a 15-stop tour, bringing their contemporary Christian sound to the Lone Star State.
"There are 18 children in this choir and 11 adults that tour with them. It is the 98th choir to actually come out of Uganda and go on tour," says Nussel. "There have been 97 choirs before them."
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Don't be surprised however if, instead of a tip jar, the performance ends with a different sort of ask. The children will tell the audience members about the mission of the Watoto Church, and how it seeks out the most vulnerable from among the two million orphans in Uganda. How those children are placed in small homes of eight children, with a mother figure, instead of in a large institution. And how, with the help of social workers and the creation of small children's villages that contain infrastructure, each child receives individual love and care, ensuring the health and safety for the next generation of Ugandans.
Nussel says the Watoto story will be presented by a choir leader, but that a couple of the children also will present their personal testimony. "All of the children know English. They're taught English in their schools in Uganda and they also speak Ugandan as well; some of them speak Swahili too," says Nussel. "These kids definitely bring a breath of fresh air."
Performances are scheduled for March 1-20 at various locations throughout Texas. For information, visit watoto.com/app/choir/calendar.
Texas Tour Schedule:
7 p.m. March 1, New Hope Baptist Church, 549 West Gulfway, Port Arthur
6 p.m. March 2, Emanuel Church, 500 East James, Baytown
10 a.m. March 3, Champion Life Centre, 3031 FM 2920, Spring
6:30 p.m. March 3, Faith United Methodist Church, 2403 Rayford Road, Spring
7 p.m. March 5, Tomball Bible Church, 400 North Walnut, Tomball
7 p.m. March 6, Klein United Methodist Church, 5920 FM 2920, Spring
7 p.m. March 7, Lamb of God Lutheran Church, 1400 FM 1960 East Bypass, Humble
6:30 p.m. March 8, St. John’s Lutheran Church, 520 North Holland, Bellville
6 p.m. March 9, Church of God of Prophecy, 4610 Sunflower, Houston
10 a.m. March 10, Clearpoint Church, 5151 East Sam Houston Parkway, Pasadena
7 p.m. March 12, Christ’s Church Assembly of God, 1401 Bay Area Boulevard, Houston
7 p.m. March 15, First United Methodist Church, 701 East Goliad, Lufkin
8:30, 9:45 and 11 a.m., 6 p.m. March 17, Harmony Hill Baptist Church, 2708 South Chestnut, Lufkin
6 p.m. March 19, Colonial Hills Baptist Church, 7330 South Broadway, Tyler
6:30 p.m. March 20, Alpine Church of Christ, 610 East Loop 281, Longview