African Children’s Choir (ACC) is the subject of an upcoming feature-length documentary, Imba Means Sing. The independent film, shot over two years, chronicles 20 talented kids from their Ugandan villages to their tour throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Slated for release in Spring 2014 (in time for ACC’s 30th anniversary), Imba Means Sing, produced by Peabody Award winner Erin Levin, is told primarily from the perspectives of Moses and Angel from the 39th choir. Moses aspires to be a pilot. Angel wants to be the first female president of Uganda.
Despite poverty in the village and being homesick on the road, ACC brings sincere optimism and innocence to the screen. “The film shines a positive light on Africa. These kids are real people. You’ll see different attributes about yourself, your friends and family. I want other people to get to feel how I feel,” says Levin.
Humanitarian and minister Ray Barnett organized ACC in 1984 in response to a civil war in Uganda. ACC is now present in Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria. The Grammy Award-nominated child prodigies have performed with Elton John, Paul McCartney, Mariah Carey, John Legend, Bob Geldof, Jars of Clay, Queen, Josh Groban and Annie Lennox.
ACC has also performed for Queen Elizabeth II, the United Nations, Nelson Mandela and Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Levin, an Emmy Award-winning former CNN producer, first came in contact with ACC while serving as a Peace Corps health educator in Madagascar. She began to accompany and film ACC’s travels following a conversation with a missionary family about ACC.
Quick to acknowledge how the power of ACC’s music brings joy, an enthusiastic Levin says the film’s production problems revolve around securing the funding. “Everything would be 50 times easier if we were fully funded. People don’t understand the power of film, why it matters and how hard it is to make. We’re halfway up the mountain, but we still have to get to the peak,” says Levin.
ACC, a vocal ensemble full of radiant smiles, recently stopped in Atlanta for eye-opening performances at The Buckhead Theatre and another prior to an Atlanta Braves game the following evening.
All of Imba Means Sing’s proceeds will support ACC’s objective to provide the participants with a quality education. So far, over 52,000 kids have had their education funded.
“Education is an important answer to solving all of the world’s problems. This film shows the difference between what these kids’ lives are before getting educated and the opportunities that they have now that they will be educated,” says Levin.
ACC’s performances, now in its 29th year, are filled with infectious spirit. Each child introduces themselves individually, stop for photo ops and hugs everyone. Prior to ACC’s headlining performance, four of the boys perform an impromptu polyrhythmic drum performance in the lobby.
ACC’s charisma wins over audiences. The joyful young performers – rocking from side-to-side – combine angelic harmonies with pulsating congas, chants, echoing handclaps, streams of thrusting elbows, horizontal fists pumping, arena-like foot stomps and rotating lead vocals.
One boy pop locks. Another one backflips. The ambitious kids also state to the audience one-by-one their names and what they want to be when they grow up. To Levin, Imba Means Sing is an important documentary that reveals ACC’s global impact. “People should realize that there is an education crisis in our world. However, they make other people’s lives better,” says Levin.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.