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They Got Garbage, They Give Symphonies

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, May 16, 2013

Juan Manuel Chavez draws deep sweet sounds from a cello made from a battered empty oil can, a meat tenderizing tool and another gadget meant for making gnocchi. Aida Maribel Rios Bardados plays a violin ingeniously crafted from scraps of trash.

Juan Manuel and Aida Maribel play in the Landfill Harmonic Orchestra in Cateura, Paraguay, a deeply impoverished slum outside of Asuncion. About 20 youngsters, aged 11 to 19, play beautiful Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, some contemporary Latin music and orchestral versions of Beatles songs on instruments made almost entirely with materials scavenged from the sprawling landfill where the people of Cateura live with the 1,500 tons of solid waste dumped every day. A Mother Jones article by Zaineb Mohammed tells the story. Watch an amazing Youtube video. See photos on Facebook.

The project was ignited when a local musician, Favio Chavez, brought a youth orchestra from a neighboring town to Cateura, hoping to distract kids from gangs and drugs. The young listeners were enthusiastic, but there was no money for instruments. "A community like Cateura is not a place to have a violin,” Chavez says in film clips about the orchestra. "In fact, a violin is worth more than a house here.”

Nicolas Gomez earns his living picking through garbage and he has a genius for building things. He and Chavez began experimenting with instruments that might be constructed through the exquisite recombination of bits and pieces discovered sifting through mountains of refuse. All kinds of discarded objects were transformed into wind and stringed instruments. Tin water pipes modified with buttons and bottle caps for keys and spoon and fork handles became saxophones. A water pipe with coins for keys became a flute. Percussion instruments were built for a hearing impaired child, who turned out to be a talented drummer. With Chavez directing, the young musicians flourished.

Alejandra Nash, an Asuncion native and film maker, learned about the orchestra four years ago and decided to produce a documentary. She and colleagues aim for a release in 2014.

Visit their Kickstarter page for more on the Landfill Harmonic. Nash launched the page in April asking $175,000 to fund the movie, and almost $200,000 has been raised. Extra funds will help finance a world tour for the young musicians. The orchestra has already performed in Brazil and Colombia, and has been invited to Europe, Japan, India and the US.

The musicians and their music have a message. Rodolfo Madero, the film’s executive producer, told Mother Jones he envisions a Landfill Harmonic Movement with projects that can be replicated elsewhere-he says health and environmental groups in Mexico, Kenya and Haiti are interested. Because the landfill lies along the Paraguay River, its pollution is threatening a national water source. "What these kids are showing us is that you shouldn’t throw away your things-or people...” Madero told the magazine. He says these young musicians are living proof that that not everything is disposable.

Tags:  buscell  community  complexity matters  music 

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