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Landfill Harmonic

I realize that once a video shows up on Andrew Sullivan‘s blog (via David Haglund at Slate), it has gone viral and beyond, so my pointer to it is pretty much redundant. Nonetheless, here it is, for those few of you who may have missed it. Be sure to watch at least until the 51-second mark and a bit beyond, in order to watch Bebi play the first measures of the prelude to Bach’s first cello suite on an oil can.

From an AP article:

The sounds of a classical guitar come from two big jelly cans. Used X-rays serve as the skins of a thumping drum set. A battered aluminum salad bowl and strings tuned with forks from what must have been an elegant table make a violin. Bottle caps work perfectly well as keys for a saxophone.

A chamber orchestra of 20 children uses these and other instruments fashioned out of recycled materials from a landfill where their parents eke out livings as trash-pickers, regularly performing the music of Beethoven and Mozart, Henry Mancini and the Beatles.

A concert they put on for The Associated Press also featured Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and some Paraguayan polkas.

Rocio Riveros, 15, said it took her a year to learn how to play her flute, which was made from tin cans. “Now I can’t live without this orchestra,” she said.

Word is spreading about these kids from Cateura, a vast landfill outside Paraguay’s capital where some 25,000 families live alongside reeking garbage in abject poverty.

And from a BBC report:

This is Cateura, the main rubbish dump of Paraguay’s capital, Asuncion, where the conductor of the country’s symphony orchestra, Luis Szaran, has established a music school.

“I came here once and saw a woman holding a newborn child with one hand and picking up rubbish with the other, and told myself this could not go on, this is how everything started,” recalls Mr Szaran, who is of Hungarian and Polish origin.

He launched the Sonidos de la Tierra (Sounds of the Land) initiative six years ago to bring classical and folkloric music to the poorest children with the help of the Swiss non-governmental organisation, Avina.


The children in the programme are not only taught to play music. They also learn how to build and repair musical instruments in an adjacent wooden workshop.

They are granted credits to buy materials like strings and other specialised music components for their instruments. When they have sold or repaired an instrument they can earn money that allows them to make a living and maintain their studies.

Recently, they have even started building high-quality instruments made of rubbish.

Also see the Facebook page for the landfill harmonic documentary.

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