Cristina Vazquez, a Roma teen who grew up in a Madrid shantytown, never imagined herself playing the violin. But today she is first violinist in an inventive orchestra bringing together two dozen other disadvantaged youths, who play with instruments made from recycled materials.
Her violin is made from colourful soda cans, while a string bass uses a skateboard for its body, and the drums are made from plastic barrels.
“I am really happy, because it has changed my life a lot,” says 18-year-old Vazquez.
She hesitantly joined the orchestra at age 12 when it was part of the curriculum at her school in the southern district of Vallecas, one of Madrid’s poorest neighbourhoods.
Today she teaches younger members of the group.
The project, dubbed “Music of Recycling“, aims to breathe new life into discarded junk while also benefitting youths from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The project is run by Spanish environmental group Ecoembes and is inspired by Paraguay’s Cateura orchestra, made up of musicians from a slum who play instruments made from materials found in a rubbish dump.
After Ecoembes invited the Cateura orchestra to perform in Madrid in 2014, “the group decided to found its own similar ensemble that same year,” says the director of the project Víctor Gil.
Belonging to an orchestra is like “being in a family, and doing what pleases us most,” says 18-year-old Luis Miguel Munoz. He credits the orchestra with keeping him on the straight and narrow in a neighbourhood like Vallecas, which has a high school dropout rate.
“Instead of meeting up with friends, I preferred to listen to music, play it, and little by little it became a way of life,” says Munoz who sees himself becoming a professional flamenco percussionist.
Now after having performed in cities across Spain, “we already have four boys studying in scholarships at music schools and public conservatories,” says Víctor Gil.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has put a temporary halt to performances. A concert planned for last Thursday in Madrid was called off last minute because of soaring Covid-19 infections in Spain.
At the same time, more than 100 children are taking music classes from members of the orchestra as part of the project.
The instruments are created by luthier Fernando Soler, a third-generation instrument maker, from cans, wooden boxes, cutlery and parts of discarded instruments.
He said he tries to make the instruments as close to their “normal” shape as possible so the children won’t have difficulty playing regular equipment in the future.
Soler hopes he will soon be able to restart his workshops on making instruments, which were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. He said his dream is to see one of his pupils become “the luthier of recycling of the future.”
Watch the video to see how the instruments are made and played.