Lifted out of poverty and disease, the African Children's Choir plan to bring the house down at the WIN Entertainment Centre on Sunday.
The world-famous choir will be joined in Wollongong by Australian singer/songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke and 1000 singers for Under One Sky - the biggest concert of all on the African Children's Choir regional tour of Australia. The massed choir will feature 26 Sydney and Illawarra school and community choirs, including Sydney Children's Choir, Campbelltown Gondwana Indigenous Children's Choir, Kwaya, Keiraview Singers, SingGongGo, Berkeley Songbirds, Illawarra Union Singers, Mount Brown Public School and Fairy Meadow Demonstration School. Five musical directors will lead the concert, including the Choir of Hard Knocks' Dr Jonathan Welch.
The ACC features nine girls and nine boys aged 9-12 who have performed all over world, singing for the Queen and Nelson Mandela. Their first Australian tour in 2013 was sold out.
Under One Sky is being hosted by Kwaya, a Gold Coast charity and choir run by president Marsha Gusti. Money raised on tour will be used to educate children in African slums.
Gusti founded Kwaya (Swahili for choir) in 2010 to bring Australian singers together for musical and cultural exchanges here and overseas.
"I saw the healing and most incredible connections that were made through singing together," Gusti says.
"I used to organise workshops up in Queensland and we used to bring Aboriginal people in from the missions and we'd sing together - all barriers fell away,".
Gusti was walking in Burleigh Hands one day, when she had an epiphany about going to Africa.
"I thought why don't you harness the big-hearted energy of people in community choirs in Australia and take them to Africa and work with people over there."
Gusti discovered the ACC in Uganda and set up a relationship with Kwaya.
"Our first trip was in 2011 and we've been over every year since. In total, 175 Aussies have gone over with me and we've worked with the African Children's Choir in all their outreach projects in the slums in Uganda.
Kwaya members visit slum schools, conduct music, arts and craft workshops, and also repaint buildings, plant crops and put on a free concert.
Since 1984, ACC has educated more than 52,000 children from poor African families until they graduate from university, supported by donors. Gusti says the Australians think they are going to make a difference in Africa, but is they who are changed.
"You're seeing poverty and seeing the joy in the community that you didn't think could exist for people living in such dire circumstances.
"These people are full of gratitude and life. Half the population in Uganda is under 14 - they lost a whole generation to war and AIDS."
Gusti says the African children don't just sing.
"They are absolutely, utterly dynamic on stage in their movement, their dance, their drumming - they tell stories on stage. It's phenomenal."
ACC is performing across the east coast but the big concert in Wollongong on Sunday is believed to be an Australian record for a massed choir.
Gusti chose Wollongong for its rich culture and love of the arts and was thrilled by the response of 1000 singers.
"It took nine months of recruitment, but we did it. It's the biggest thing we've ever done and we need as much support as we can."
Ticket prices have been halved this week.
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