“The world sends us garbage. We send back music” is the motto for a particular orchestra from Paraguay; they decided to make instruments entirely out of garbage from landfills.
This past Thursday the UNCG Sustainability Film and Discussion series presented the documentary “Landfill Harmonic”, a film detailing the creation and process of this Recycled Orchestra. Centering on the life of the people in Cateura, a small and impoverished town in Paraguay. It is home to Paraguay’s main landfill and most of citizens make their living scavenging through the garbage and selling materials.
The film follows a man, Favio Chavez, who came to Cateura to help citizens make money from selling and properly sorting garbage from recycling. When he arrived he saw that the children of Cateura weren’t given any other opportunity other than following in their parents footsteps. Chavez was horrified by the conditions the children were living in, and having previously run an orchestra he sought to do the same in Cateura.
Chavez came to find out that owning a violin in Cateura was dangerous. In this village, a violin costs more than a house. It just wasn’t realistic for people to own instruments. One day, while working in the landfill, Chavez found a lot of material he felt could be made into violin. After much trial and error, he started making instruments out of the recycled material in the landfill. Eventually this led giving free music lessons to the children of Cateura. For most of the children, who have to drop out of school to work, this was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Chavez didn’t stop at the violin, as he continued to make other instruments. He made drums from x-rays and cellos from large oil cans. The orchestra was off to a rough start, as the instruments weren’t very sturdy and had to repaired often. They also had to be tuned often. The kids were all beginners that had to start with the basics, But eventually they were invited to hold their first performance at a venue in Rio. They played Ode to Joy.
Although in a poor village the children were still greatly influenced by music, one of the violinists grew up listening to hard rock and was a big fan of the heavy metal band Megadeth. Other members of the orchestra were also fans of the band, and they ended up messaging the bassist of Megadeth on Facebook. They had taken the Paraguay flag and written Megadeth on it, and were kind enough to send him a picture. The bassist, David Ellefson, responded back and communication began between Ellefson and the orchestra of Cateura. Ellefson even went to Cateura to meet the children and invite them to play with Megadeth in Denver. After performing with Megadeth, it didn’t take long for the Recycled Orchestra to start getting international attention. They started getting invited to play in more places and ended up doing tours all over South America.
In spite of all that, a few years later a horrible flood struck Cateura and most the people of the village were forced out of the homes and had to live on the streets outside the village. The families of the orchestra were lucky to be able to live in the school, but that wasn’t a permanent solution and most of the families’ homes were destroyed. Chavez immediately wanted to help and started to seek out homes for the families to live in. The orchestra was more than just a group, they were a team and a family. The flood waters eventually receded and the families started to rebuild their homes. Chavez was able to get a house for some of the families to live in. The orchestra continued to grow and Chavez continued to make instruments.
The Recycled Orchestra gave hope and opportunity to children who otherwise would not have an artistic outlet. One of the violinists said she wants to pursue music throughout her life and become a professional musician, a dream she wouldn’t be able to dream if it weren’t for the magic of creating instruments from garbage.