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Singing Away Sorrow

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The Children of Uganda throw all their energy into a repertoire of spirited songs and dances from their homeland. But their onstage exuberance belies their message of losing parents to AIDS. “It’s difficult for people who haven’t been to Africa to identify how AIDS has impacted the country and society-at-large,” says Alexis Hefley, the troupe’s founder. “Our performance is uplifting and upbeat, but it underscores the drama and reality of the AIDS pandemic in Africa.”

The 22-member choir is made up of 8- to 18-year-olds on a 31-city tour that brings them to Playhouse Square this morning as part of the Discovery Theatre Series for Families. During the hour-long concert, they’ll perform traditional music of Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, and the Congo. “I think the Children of Uganda have put a different face on Africa and that they are making a difference,” says Hefley. “There’s a message of hope in what we do.”

Unfortunately, statistics offer a bleaker picture. Last month, London’s Save the Children reported that the mothers of 9 million children in sub-Saharan Africa have died of AIDS in the past 25 years. Africans account for 10 percent of the world’s population but 60 percent of documented AIDS and HIV cases worldwide. In Uganda alone, 300 people die of the disease every day.

That’s why Hefley deep-sixed her job as a money manager in Texas to work at two Ugandan orphanages, where she founded the choir 18 months later. “In Texas, I thought, ‘Is this what making money is supposed to be like?’” she says. “And I asked myself ‘What’s my purpose?’ It seemed like everyone had a calling except me. I used to think material things motivated me, and I thought more was better. But I came to find out less is more.”
Sat., April 8, 11 a.m.

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