“When you dance, you forget that you didn’t eat. When you dance, you forget that you have lost someone,” Dauda Kavuma – Founder, Ghetto Kids
They are young, dynamic and exuberant with the world literally at their feet.
What started as a community project to transform the lives of street children in Uganda through music and dance has gained global acclaim after the group made it to the finals of a top-rated TV talent show in the UK.
The world has been wowed by the Ghetto Kids a dancing troupe from Uganda after they made it to the finals of the just-ended Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) 2023 competition.
The group qualified as one of 10 finalists by winning the third semi-final of the competition, making history by becoming the first group to ever be awarded the Golden Buzzer mid-performance in the 16 years of the show broadcast by the ITV network.
Clad in matching green and patterned costumes, the group performed a lively routine to a medley of songs which left judge Bruno Tonioli, who is a professional dancer, pressing the buzzer, which sent the act straight through to the competition’s live semi-final.
A moment described by BGT judge Simon Cowell as “magical”.
“Those comments from Simon really shocked us because he is the one judge on the show whose comments to contestants can be very stinging,” said Ghetto Kids founder Dauda Kavuma.
Speaking to BDLife via phone on Wednesday, a day after they arrived back in Kampala, he confessed that for the first time, the group felt recognised for putting Uganda, and Africa on the map.
“The Uganda Tourism Board and the Tourism ministry here all laid out a grand welcome for the children on their return home. This type of reception has never been given to us before and the children are still recovering from the long day acknowledging the cheers from the crowds along the route from the airport,” he said.
The current cohort of Ghetto Kids are between the ages of six and 13 but their success on BGT is not a flash in the pan.
The first generation of Ghetto Kids came to global fame in 2014 after their video dancing along to Ugandan performer Eddy Kenzo’s breakthrough song Sitya Loss went viral.
Kenzo, himself a former street kid, eventually recruited the children for the official video for the song. “When I saw them, I saw myself back in there,” the Grammy-nominated artist told the BBC in February this year.
“I am proud of them because they have kept on hustling, working day by day.”
Thanks to the success of Sitya Loss, the children were able to resume school and the group acquired equipment to enable them shoot videos and record songs.
They also appeared with Moroccan-American rapper French Montana in the video for his single Unforgettable.
The children who are all big football fans, performed at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and in January this year they were invited by the Qatar Foundation to France to attend a match between champions PSG and Reims.
They acted as mascots for the teams and entertained the Parisian crowd on a winter’s evening with an exhilarating dance performance during halftime.
“When I was young, I dreamed of meeting the best football players in the world and playing in the best teams and when Kylian Mbappe posed for pictures with the Ghetto Kids it was just a fulfilment of that dream,” says Kavuma.
Kavuma, 45, is a trained mathematics teacher who used his experience of a tough childhood on the streets of Kampala, to transform the lives of children who may not otherwise have much hope for their own future.
“I came to the realisation that education was not solely about attending school, but it is about being open and prepared to learn,” he says.
So, he founded Ghetto Kids Foundation in 2007 in the Ugandan capital with the objective of using music, dance, and drama to transform the lives of orphaned, vulnerable and destitute children.
Some 31 children share a five bed-bedroom house in Kampala and rely on donations from well-wishers and performance fees.
The Ghetto Kids have won a host of awards including Best Dance at the AFRIMMA Awards in 2017, AEA – USA (Best Dance Group 2017) and YouTube Creators Award 2020.
Fresh from their success on BGT they are in negotiations to perform alongside Nigerian superstar Wizkid in London later in the year.
Are the Ghetto Kids disappointed that they went all the way to the final of the competition and didn’t win the ultimate prize? “No way!” retorts Kavuma.
“We enrolled in this competition to have fun and everything else that came our way, including the Golden Buzzer, was a bonus. Remember during the final, one of the children was really sick while two others were also under the weather. We are proud to be African and proud to be Ugandan,” he concludes.