Cristina Vazquez and Luis Miguel Munoz, two of the many young people who grew up in a slum in Madrid, never imagined themselves as musicians in the midst of the hardships of their lives. However, Vazquez is the first violinist of an inventive orchestra bringing together twenty other disadvantaged young people to play instruments made from recycled materials.
Vazquez’s violin is made from colorful soda cans, while a double bass has a skateboard for its body, and the drums are made from plastic barrels.
The project, nicknamed “Music of Recycling”, aims to breathe new life into discarded waste while also benefiting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“I’m really happy because it changed my life a lot,” said Vazquez, 18, with shining eyes.
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 orchestra really opened up to the world for me … I had never even been to central Madrid,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll be a professional musician … but I want to continue teaching young children.” It fills you with pride when a young girl walks up to you and says, ‘When I grow up , I want to be like you.'”
Munoz, 18, credits the orchestra for keeping it on track in a neighborhood like Vallecas, which has a high school dropout rate.
“Instead of meeting friends, I preferred to listen to music, play it, and little by little it became a way of life,” he said.
Belonging to an orchestra is like “being in a family, and doing what pleases us the most,” said bleached blonde Munoz, who sports a goatee.
Music “allowed me to escape the problems of life,” said Munoz, who sees himself becoming a professional flamenco percussionist.
The project is led by the Spanish environmental group Ecoembes and is inspired by the Paraguayan orchestra Cateura, 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 that same year, said Víctor Gil, director of Music of Recycling.
“Why not here? We have social and economic problems,” said the Argentine.
The ensemble gave their first gig four months later and “the kids couldn’t play more than four notes,” said Gil, who plays bass made from a skateboard.
Now, after playing in towns across Spain, “we already have four boys studying on scholarships at music schools and public conservatories,” he added.
Unfortunately, the pandemic temporarily interrupted performance. A concert scheduled for last Thursday in Madrid was canceled at the last minute due to the spike in COVID-19 infections in Spain.
During this time, more than 100 children attend music lessons given by members of the orchestra as part 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”.