Skateboarding and soda cans make musical instruments for disadvantaged youth in Spain

Cristina Vazquez, a Roma teenager who grew up in a slum in Madrid, never imagined playing the violin. But today, she is the first violinist in an inventive orchestra bringing together about twenty other disadvantaged young people, who play with instruments made from recycled materials.

Its violin is made from colorful soda cans, while a double bass uses a skateboard for its body and the drums are made from plastic barrels.

“I’m really happy because it changed my life a lot,” says 18-year-old Vazquez.

She hesitantly joined the orchestra at the age of 12 when it was part of the curriculum at her school in the southern district of Vallecas, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Madrid.

Today, she teaches the younger members of the group.

The project, called “Recycling music“, aims to breathe new life into discarded waste while also benefiting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The project is managed by the Spanish environmental group Ecoembes and is inspired by the Cateura Orchestra of Paraguay, made up of musicians from a slum who play instruments made from materials found in a landfill.

After Ecoembes invited the Cateura orchestra to perform in Madrid in 2014, “the group decided to found their own similar ensemble in the same year,” explains project director Víctor Gil.

Belonging to an orchestra is like “being in a family, and doing what we like the most,” says Luis Miguel Munoz, 18 years old. He credits the orchestra with keeping him on the straight and narrow in a neighborhood like Vallecas, which has a high school dropout rate.

“Instead of meeting friends, I preferred to listen to music, to play it, and little by little it became a way of life”, says Munoz, who sees himself becoming a professional flamenco percussionist.

Music that changes life

Now, after playing in towns across Spain, “we already have four boys studying for scholarships in music schools and public conservatories,” says Víctor Gil.

Unfortunately, the pandemic temporarily interrupted performance. A concert scheduled for last Thursday in Madrid was canceled at the last minute due to the surge in Covid-19 infections in Spain.

At the same time, more than 100 children follow music lessons given by members of the orchestra within the framework of the project.

Instruments are created by luthier Fernando Soler, a third generation instrument maker, from discarded cans, wooden boxes, cutlery and instrument parts.

He said he tries to make the instruments as close to their “normal” shape as possible so that children will not have difficulty playing with ordinary equipment in the future.

Soler hopes to soon be able to restart its instrument manufacturing workshops, suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. He says his dream is to see one of his students become “the recycling luthier of the future”.

Watch the video to see how the instruments are made and played.


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