In the huge rubbish dump in the barrio of Cateura, on the south side of Asunción, Paraguayan youngsters who sort through the capital’s rubbish have found the means to make music. The orchestra known locally as Melodias de la Basura or Los Reciclados, and in English as the Landfill Harmonic, was started in 2006 by an environmentalist and music teacher, Flavio Chavez. Needing instruments, he worked with a craftsman from Cateura known as Cola to make them largely from recycled material: oil tins for sound boxes, spoons for tuning pegs, forks for tensing strings. Now thirty teenagers from Cateura have guitars, flutes, violins and cellos made from rubbish. They have travelled as far as Europe to perform Mozart and Beethoven.
The landfill harmonic is part of a bigger project called Sonidos de la Tierra. Begun in 2002 by Luis Szaran, director of the Asunción Sinfonic Orchestra, it works in more than 160 poor communities in Paraguay and has taught music to over 14,000 children. They are well-known for their massive open air concerts, one of which featured 223 harps, Paraguay’s national instrument.
They play mostly classical music, but they’ve also given a concert in honour of the Rolling Stones. The OrqueStone, formed for a concert in Asunción last August to celebrate Sonido de la Tierra’s 10th anniversary (and the Stones’ 50th), featured 2700 instrumentalists. Never before has ‘Satisfaction’ been played by so many violinists and cellists.