Making music from rubbish in Paraguay

Unfortunately for its residents, the town of Cateura outside the capital of Asuncion in Paraguay is situated on a landfill. Consequently, the most common means of earning a living is selling rubbish. Here, extreme poverty, high illiteracy rates, drug abuse, gang warfare and other social ills thrive.

Local teacher Favio Chavez wanted change. He opened a tiny music school at the landfill for young people, but his big problem was a lack of instruments. In Cateura, he explained, “a violin costs more than a house.”

When Chavez had his ‘light bulb moment’, nothing could stop him. He joined forces with former carpenter Nicolas Gomez and craftsman Tito Romero, who painstakingly learned to turn rubbish-dump rejects into musical instruments with perfect timbre. Soon a group of young people were learning music on cellos made from oil cans, broken barrels and broken meat tenderisers; violins fashioned from forks and discarded salad bowls; flutes, clarinets and saxophones crafted from galvanised pipes, bottle caps and old coins; and drum kits derived from old x-rays.

As the musicians and instrument makers have gained prowess, they’ve attracted international attention. The transformational nature of the Recycled Orchestra projects has made it the subject of a forthcoming film, and the group itself is now playing Mozart, Mancini, Sinatra and the Beatles in classrooms and concert halls across Brazil, Panama and Colombia.

Category: Winter 2013

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