Posted: 09/08/2008


We Are Together [Thina Simunye]: The Children of the Agape Choir


by Jef Burnham

Now showing on HBO. Check your local listings.

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In South Africa is an orphanage called the Agape Child Care Center, home to some 25 children whose parents passed away or abandoned them. With the help of Thembalani, their singing teacher, the children of Agape formed a locally renowned choir. This HBO documentary follows the amazing journey of the children from their preparations for an ill-fated trip to England, where they would have performed to raise money so that Agape could have taken in more children, to their recording of a CD, and ultimately a trip for 10 members of the choir to perform in New York.

The Agape children are staggeringly talented singers for a group of whose members are as young as seven years old, which is really no surprise once you learn how big the role of music is in the culture of South Africa. The choir’s primary soloist (at least in the numbers shown in the documentary) is a powerfully-voiced young girl named Slindile. Slindile and four of her siblings have lived at Agape since her parents died and their older siblings are unable to provide for them. Outside of Agape and the choir, we also follow Slindile and her siblings as they watch their eldest brother waste away from HIV.

Much of the film just shows the kids doing what they do best—being kids. The children dance and sing in the yard or do flips between takes at the recording studio. But some of the best moments are watching the children experience a New York snowfall and build one of the finest snowmen I have ever seen children make, and watching basically anything little Mtho does.

The children of Agape are enormously inspirational. Their stories and their performances are undeniably affecting. You will constantly be fighting back tears—and probably losing that fight.

Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic in Chicago.

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