Making music out of trash

160102 recycled instruments orchestra of cateura

WHILE many of the children in Paraguay’s Cateura slum dream of becoming football players or pop stars, Mr Brandon Cobone’s ticket out of the shanty town is something more unusual.

It is a Frankenstein of a double bass, cobbled together from garbage plucked from the nearby landfill. The 18-year-old is a member of the Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados de Cateura – the Recycled Instruments Orchestra of Cateura – which uses music to give children from the slum the skills to build a better future.

The orchestra was created almost by accident by environmental engineer Favio Chavez, a music lover who was working with the gancheros, or garbage pickers, who comb the vast landfill for recyclables. “It started with a simple comment,” he said, referring to the gancheros’ request, after learning of his musical skills, that he give their children lessons.

Mr Chavez soon ran into a problem. He did not own enough instruments to go around. So he took advantage of one resource he had in abundance – trash.

He made a violin out of a strainer, a metal dish and metal tubing. “It didn’t sound like much,” he acknowledged, saying the next few instruments, including a “guitar” cut out of a piece of wood with a couple of strings attached, were not much better.

Mr Chavez teamed up with one of the gancheros, a skilled carpenter named Mr Nicolas Gomez, to make a variety of instruments that looked more or less like the real thing and sounded like it too.

Now the orchestra has most of the instruments used in a conventional orchestra, but made out of cooking pots, bottle tops, melted keys and the like.

It became an international phenomenon after some filmmakers posted a trailer for a documentary, Landfill Harmonic, on the Web in 2012. Since then, it has been flooded with invitations to perform, from Germany to Japan. It even toured South America as an opening act for Metallica.

Mr Chavez said the orchestra’s key aim is not about forging world-class musicians. “What we want is to teach a different way of being, to instil in them different values than those that hold sway in their community. There, the role models are the gang leaders.

“In the Orquesta, the role models are the hardest workers, those with the most dedication, the most commitment.”

The 40-plus orchestra members are selected not for their innate musicality, but for the keenness with which they attend Saturday morning lessons. They must attend weekly rehearsals, where they prepare a repertory that includes classics like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, as well as traditional Paraguayan tunes.

Thanks to donations, they now have conventional instruments, which they use in rehearsals. But they continue to play on the homemade instruments for their performances.

Mr Cobone, who has visited 15 countries with the orchestra, said: “I’ve always wanted to travel, but I never imagined it would happen… and especially not because of this.”



Jun 20, 2015, 5:50 am SGT



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