The world generates about a billion tons of garbage a year. Those who live with it and from it are the poor – like the people of Cateura, Paraguay. And here they are transforming it into beauty. Landfill Harmonic follows the orchestra as it takes its inspiring spectacle of trash-into-music around the world. Follow the lives of a garbage picker, a music teacher and a group of children from a Paraguayan slum that out of necessity started creating instruments entirely out of garbage. Landfill Harmonic is a beautiful story about the transformative power of music, which also highlights two vital issues of our times: poverty and waste pollution.
This story develops in one of the poorest slums in Latin America. Just outside Asuncion, Paraguayans capital; Cateura is the city’s trash dump. It is built on a landfill. Here, people live in a sea of garbage. And they live from garbage. Every day, tons of rotting detritus spill from trucks and people swarm over it to pick the pieces of trash that are their livelihood. The people of Cateura may be the poorest of the poor but they are proud and the life of their slum is vibrant. Family bonds, rivalries and friendships are intense.
Surrounded by stories of drug-violence, alcoholism and destitution, they make herculean efforts to reaffirm their life and dignity. A few years ago, one of the garbage pickers, “Cola," an untutored genius of the slum, got together with local musician Favio Chávez to make instruments for the children of the slum.
There was no money for real instruments so together they started to make instruments from trash – violins and cellos from oil drums, flutes from water pipes and spoons, guitars from packing crates.
With children like Ada and Tania and with the support of many in the slum, Favio slowly put together one of the world’s most unlikely orchestras. It is entirely made of garbage. They call it “The Recycled Orchestra." See more about the orchestra and learn how you can be involved: The World Sends Us Garbage - We Send Back Music.
Chávez got to know these kids and their families over 5 years ago while working on a waste recycling project at the landfill of Cateura. In this area more than 40% of children don’t finish school because their parents need them to work. Being an environmental engineer but with a musical background, one day he decided to help the children by teaching them music lessons. The idea was simply to keep the kids from playing in the landfill.
“At first it was very difficult because we had no place to rehearse and we had to teach in the same place where the parents were working in the trash,” said Chávez. “The children knew nothing about music and it was very difficult to contact parents because many of them do not live with their children.”
Eventually, parents began to see that playing music was keeping their kids out of trouble, some even reclaiming children they had previously abandoned.
Soon there were more children wanting lessons than there were instruments, so Chávez and Nicolas “Cola” one of the garbage pickers experimented with making some out of recycled materials from the landfill. String and wind instruments are made with oil tin cans, forks, bottle caps, and whatever is around. “Eventually the recycled instruments were improved, and in many cases, they now sound better than the wooden Made In China instruments the more able children play on.”
The recycled instruments serve another, more practical purpose: The kids can safely carry them. “For many children, it was impossible to give them a violin to take home because they had nowhere to keep it and their parents were afraid they would be robbed or the instrument would be sold to buy drugs.”
The Orchestra had remained unheard of for many years. The launching of the Landfill Harmonic short teaser on the Internet triggered a social media events that changed this. “More things have happened in the last 7 months, than in the last 7 years on our lives”. Since then, the Orchestra has traveled to many places and soon, as we are getting close to finishing our movie, the plans are to align the release, festival and premieres of the film with a tour of the Orchestra in the U.S., Europe and other countries as well.
The Orchestra has grown from just a few musicians to over 35. Their recent fame has peaked the interest of the families and children of the community in such way, that many children are now enrolling for music classes. The music school of Cateura, does not have their own building yet, but teaches music and how to build recycled instruments to more than 200 kids of the landfill.
THE RECYCLED ORCHESTRA 2014 WORLD TOUR
After the social media success of our 3-minute trailer, organizations from all over the world have reached us with invitations for the Orchestra to play and the film to premiere. This is an opportunity to the bring attention to the issues of poverty and pollution and spread the message of hope of The Recycled Orchestra. We are responding to these invitations one by one and planning a tour for the Movie and the Recycled Orchestra in 2014. It is our goal to visit as many countries as possible and inspire individuals and organizations to join in support.