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Making music from trash in Paraguay

Sensemaking / Making music from trash in Paraguay

Meet 'Los Reciclados': a chamber orchestra playing instruments fashioned from landfill scraps.

By tess riley / 20 May 2013

Welcome to Cateura, a town built on a vast landfill site outside Paraguay’s capital city Asunción, where 1,500 tonnes of solid waste are dumped every day. Over 2,500 families live here, many making a living from repurposing the trash and then selling it.

Some of them are also making music – with violins, cellos, saxophones and drums all carefully fashioned from the materials to hand, a process which can take weeks. Empty oil can – or a cello frame? Used x-rays – or ideal drum kit skins?

The musical project began when social worker Favio Chávez sought to provide Cateura’s local children with a modest activity to keep them occupied and away from the rubbish tip. Little did he imagine that the fledgling musicians would become ‘Los Reciclados’, a chamber orchestra of 25 children performing everything from Beethoven to the Beatles in concerts around Central and South America.

The story of Los Reciclados is now set to go worldwide with a feature-length documentary, Landfill Harmonic, charting the orchestra’s progress since it began. Alejandra Amarilla Nash, Executive Producer, says, “The film shines a spotlight on two of the most vital issues of our time, poverty and waste, but is ultimately one of hope which celebrates the transformative power of music.”

The film is part of a wider outreach programme to replicate the project in other parts of the world, with funding from Creative Visions Foundation, a non-profit that supports projects which use art to create change, the MacArthur Foundation and a Kickstarter campaign.

For Damien Short, Director of the Human Rights Consortium at London University, Landfill Harmonic is “testament to the ingenuity and spirit of Cateura’s inhabitants in the face of the excesses and inequality of global capitalism [and] a story that deserves to be celebrated”.

Music may be the food of love, but Mexico City is encouraging citizens to trade recyclable materials for fresh food at the Mercado de Trueque, a new market launched by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. The market accepts glass, paper, cardboard, aluminium cans and PET plastic bottles, and returns green points which are redeemable for agricultural products (such as lettuce, spinach and prickly pears) grown in and around Mexico City. – Tess Riley, with additional material by Tom Rossiter

Photo: Landfill Harmonics

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