The first time Erin Levin heard the African Children’s Choir she was blown away not only by the angelic voices of its members but by their journeys from poverty to fame.
“It was humbling,” said the metro Atlanta native. “The biggest thing was knowing these kids came from literally nothing to being talented enough to be Grammy-nominated. There was so much joy and love.”
Levin, 27, who grew up in Sandy Springs, hopes to bring the choir’s story to the screen soon with her film, “Imba Means Sing,” which chronicles the stories of Angel and Moses, two members of the choir from Uganda; and three chaperones, Anthony, Jennifer and Aleni, all former choir members.
The African Children’s Choir will be in Atlanta for a special “Embagga Means Party” fundraiser at 7:30 p.m. July 25 at the Buckhead Theatre, 3110 Roswell Road N.E.
The film, which used an Atlanta-based crew, is expected to be completed next year. Levin, who quit her job as a former field producer at CNN to work on the project, spent about a year following the choir from city to city on three continents.
It all grew out of an keen interest in Africa.
At one time Levin considered moving to Africa permanently. But her mother “freaked out” and they came to a compromise. Levin would do a stint in Madagascar as a Peace Corps volunteer.
The summer before her assignment, however, Levin was contacted by the indie rock band Dispatch, which was looking for an outreach coordinator and had heard about her work raising money for different causes on campus .
It was while working with Dispatch that Levin first heard the choir.
“I was already a do-gooder,” she said. “Throw Africa in the mix and it lit me on fire. I became so passionate and I have not stopped ever since.”
The children are thrilled to be part of a film, said Julia Barnett Tracy, international choir operations director. “I’m not sure they really understand what it all means, but anytime children have an opportunity to talk about themselves and share their lives they feel good because it means somebody is interested in them.”
Both Angel and Moses, the main youth characters, were born in the slums of Kampala. Angel’s mother is a bead-maker and her father is largely absent. The precocious nine-year-old has her eyes set on becoming the first female president.
Moses is the youngest of five born to a mother who ekes out a living as a tomato seller in Kampala and a father who is a bike porter. Moses wants to be a pilot.
Not so long ago, both their dreams may have been futile. An estimated two million people were displaced and tens of thousands died during nearly two decades of civil war. Thousands of young children lost one or both parents.
The choir was formed in Uganda in 1984, birthed in the midst of the civil war. Founder Ray Barnett, a human rights activist, wanted to help the many orphaned, starving and vulnerable children. And he wanted to do it in a way that preserved their dignity and spotlighted their abilities.
The children selected for the choir are considered at-risk, either without one or both parents or living in extreme poverty. Over years, it has expanded into six additional African nations – Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria.
To date, more than 1,000 children, ages 7 to 10, have been members, the choir has helped roughly 52,000 children go to school and more than 100,000 people have been aided through its relief and development programs.
The idea was that the world “could see the beauty and potential of Africa if he (Barnett) could bring out a choir of children,” said Barnett Tracy. “He wanted people to see that instead of the pictures on TV of bulging bellies and flies.”
Levin used crowd funding to raise about $50,000 for the film and raised $100,000 through friends, family, foundations and grants. And a local student, Emily Weeks, raised $30,000 through a letter-writing campaign. Levin said she needs to raise another $240,000 to finish the project.
Watch the trailer for “Imba Means Sing!” here: http://vimeo.com/63089658
Fundraiser for The African Children’s Choir and the Erin Levin film “Imba Means Sing.”
July 25 at the Buckhead Theatre, 3110 Roswell Road N.E.
VIP reception from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and show starts at 8 p.m.
Cost: General Admission - $45; VIP (tax-deductible donation) - $200; VIP couple - $300; VIP table (10 tickets) - $1,850