IBB in the Media


Daphne Bramham: Paraguayan children prove the power of music

Daphne Bramham
Published on: May 31, 2016 | Last Updated: May 31, 2016 8:46 AM

A decade ago, it would have been inconceivable that a 10-year-old girl like Cinthia Servin would be playing a violin, let alone playing with an orchestra before sold-out crowds in Vancouver.

It is because of an extraordinary gift from Favio Chavez. He introduced beauty in the form of music to the harsh lives of nearly 10,000 people who squat in an unofficial town at the edge of Paraguay’s largest landfill.

Families like Cinthia’s eke out a living by scavenging. There is no electricity and no potable water. What little they have comes from the dump. They sell what they can and repurpose the rest. Everything comes from the garbage — the material for their homes, their clothes and now musical instruments like Cinthia’s violin.

There was no music when Chavez, an environmental consultant, arrived in 2006 to help families earn more money from their recycling efforts.

He played the violin and conducted a youth orchestra in his hometown of Carapegua. So, when he began casting about for an example of how different pieces of garbage can be transformed into something of greater value, he thought of a violin.

The first was made from a roasting pan, a spaghetti strainer and some found wood. “It sounded good enough,” Chavez says with a smile.

When schoolchildren brought lunch to their parents at the dump, Chavez started teaching them how to play. “It was more like a game. Very few had a real desire to learn music.”

Soon, there were many more violins. A bass was fashioned from a chemical drum; flutes were conjured out of water pipes, spoons, forks and coins.

“For this community, it was not so weird to go to the landfill to find what they needed to make instruments,” he said through a translator during an interview in Vancouver. “Music became a necessity.”

Soon, there was music everywhere, with an orchestra and a music school where students graduate from “informal” instruments to “formal” donated instruments and where the more advanced musicians are paid to teach the little ones.

In 2012, a video made to raise money for the documentary, Landfill Harmonic, about the nascent Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, went viral on YouTube.

Invitations to perform started to arrive and members of the orchestra — in groups of 10, 15, 20 and up to 30 — began to travel with Chavez as its full-time conductor and director of the music school. Every child in the 60-member orchestra gets a chance to travel. It’s not about the quality of their playing, it’s about giving them an opportunity to get beyond the landfill.

They’ve travelled around the world, entertained the Pope and performed with heavy metal bands, Megadeth and Metallica.

“It (the video) put tears in our hearts and minds,” Janos Mate told me earlier this week. Because of it, Mate helped found the Vancouver-based Instruments Beyond Borders. It was IBB that brought the orchestra to Vancouver for two sold-out concerts that helped raise $30,000. Of that, $20,000 will go to support the 60-member Cateura orchestra, 200 students in the music school and the scholarship program; $10,000 will go to the Saint James Music Academy and its students in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Chavez lyrically describes unused instruments as “quiet instruments that have to find a voice.” Anyone who has some can drop them off at Tapestry Music at 3607 West Broadway Street and IBB will distribute them to the two music academies.

But it’s hard to imagine that those formal instruments will sound any better than Cinthia’s paint-can violin. The writing is still visible, the paint that it once held was odourless.

Through a translator, Cinthia told me that none of her siblings play music. While they work at the dump, Cinthia has been able to perform in the United States, Spain and Abu Dhabi.

Her goal of becoming either a professional musician or a veterinarian is attainable because of the confidence music has given her and because of the orchestra’s scholarship program.

Because of Chavez’s simple act of creating a violin out of scraps, people in Cateura now see and hear the power of music every day.

That is so different from here, where music education seems under constant threat of having its funding cut. That surprises Chavez.

“These kids in Cateura, they have no security. They have very humble houses. No jobs. No education security. Everything is unknown. For them, music is essential.

“Why is it not for somebody who lives in a wealthy city like this? Why would they not consider music an important part of their children’s development?”


One South American man is turning trash into an orchestral treasure

By Lynn Colliar Global News

This is a story about turning trash into treasure.

It centres around a tiny South American community on the outskirts of Asuncion, Paraguay that is built around a landfill, which has 1,000 tonnes of garbage dumped into it every day.

There are only 20,000 people living in Cateura and they work as trash pickers at the landfill. They collect anything and everything that can be recycled. Their houses are made from recycled garbage. The children’s toys are made from recycled garbage. Their clothes are made from clothing found in the landfill. And so are their musical instruments.

Ten years ago Favio Chavez started a small children’s orchestra with instruments made from oil drums, paint cans, roasting pans, cutlery, wood pallets — you name it. All of the instruments were pulled from the giant pile of garbage.

Chavez believed children needed music and the instruments could be imitations of the real thing. If they learned on the recycled instruments – the power of music would make them understand we are all the same. For him music is a basic need and his mission is to give that need to the children of Cateura.

There are 300 students in the recycled orchestra. A dozen or so travel at a time from all over the world. They carry their message that because you have nothing, it’s not an excuse to do nothing.

They’ve met royalty — and even toured South America with Metallica, playing on stage with the heavy metal band.

Even though these children have travelled the world — Paraguay is their home. They spread their message so they can return to the slum with the hope of building a proper schoolhouse and a future.

The orchestra was able to come to Vancouver, where they’ll be playing at a handful of schools and two fundraising concerts, after a local charity Instruments Beyond Borders raised the money to bring them here.

On Friday morning they captivated the students and teachers at Van Tech Secondary, even inviting some of them on stage to play the “recycled” version of the instruments they know.

Grade 10 student A-C Barrio-Stewart plays violin — and tried the recycled violin, which was made of paint cans and a roasting pan and a fork.

“It was different,” she says. “Their playing is fantastic — especially on garbage instruments. Watching them has made me want to play better and if I try harder maybe I can be as good as them.”

Grade 11 student Quinn Angell tried their cello.

“Showing what you can do with so little is definitely something that resonates with me and makes me want to try harder to succeed.”


Youth orchestra that plays instruments made from garbage performs in Vancouver

The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura brought from Paraguay to B.C. by the local non-profit it inspired

By Gavin Fisher, CBC News Posted: May 28, 2016 10:00 AM PT Last Updated: May 28, 2016 10:00 AM PT

The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura — a group of youth musicians from Paraguay that play instruments made entirely out of recycled garbage — have been brought to Vancouver by a local non-profit that has spent the last few years collecting disused instruments for the group.

The youth orchestra, which uses instruments such as a violin made out of a paint can and a drainpipe saxophone with keys made of bottle caps, is performing at the Vancouver Playhouse on May 29.

They spent May 27 visiting and performing at various schools around Vancouver, and will also be performing at the UBC Museum of Anthropology 

Instruments from recycled garbage

The orchestra consists of children who live beside one of the largest landfills in South America, where many of their parents also happen to work, salvaging and recycling the garbage they find.

Several years ago local music teacher Favio Chavez came up with the idea of making instruments out of recycled garbage when he wanted to offer the children free music lessons, but didn't have enough instruments.

Local nonprofit organization Instruments Beyond Borders formed after seeing a YouTube video of the group that went viral in 2013.

"When we saw this video, it brought tears to our eyes," said Janos Maté, one of the group's founders.

"We thought, 'Well, why can't we just collect some instruments here in Vancouver and ship them down to Paraguay?'"

Inspired nonprofit to form in Vancouver

Over the past few years the group has been collecting disused instruments for donation to the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, as well as to the Saint James Music Academy — which provides free music lessons to Vancouver's inner city youth.

As the organization grows, Instruments Beyond Borders hopes to donate to other similar organizations that provide free music education for children.

The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, which will be performing on May 29 along with some musicians from the Saint James Music Academy, is also the subject of the documentary Landfill Harmonic which is slated for release in September.

The group has played for the Queen of Spain and toured worldwide, playing with bands including Megadeth and Metallica.

Speaking through an interpreter, founder and conductor Favio Chavez told CBC News he has no intention of slowing down.

"My dream is really that the orchestra continues to change lives," he said.

With files from On the Coast and Rachel Sanders


Recycled Orchestra strikes a chord

Bianca Chan / Vancouver Courier

May 31, 2016 04:01 PM

Scraps of wood, used oil cans, bent forks, pop lids and buttons — these are just some of the materials that make up the instruments used by the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, Paraguay, which performed at the Museum of Anthropology Monday night.

Hundreds of Vancouverites joined the 10 musicians for aural experiences that could be understood regardless of what language you speak or where you call home. The orchestra’s members, who live beside one of the largest landfills in South America, play instruments made entirely from salvaged scraps found amongst the garbage that surrounds them and where they are overwhelmed by environmental devastation and overrun with poverty. But today, the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura has inspired similar movements in Venezuela, Brazil, Turkey and Spain.

“We are very proud of our culture in Paraguay,” said Favio Chavez, the conductor and founder of the Recycled Orchestra. “There are children who have no homes, whose parents have no jobs, food security, or electricity, but they come to the school every day to learn music because for them, culture is a basic necessity.”

So far the Recycled Orchestra, with the help of the Vancouver-based volunteer group Instruments Beyond Borders, has raised $30,000 that will go straight to the band, the music school in Cateura and the Saint James Music Academy in Vancouver.

In addition to the cash donations, the orchestra and Saint James received used instruments valued at $50,000, “with way more coming after tonight,” Elena Orrego, the secretary of Instruments Beyond Borders, said at the Museum of Anthropology during the orchestra’s last Vancouver performance.

All of the money raised will provide scholarships for the students and will go towards research for environmental resolutions in Cateura and finance the ongoing construction of the school in Paraguay. As for the instruments, the new donations will be used to teach in the school, but the Recycled Orchestra commits to playing with their recycled instruments.

“They play these instruments way better than their formal ones and of course, the kids here cannot play these instruments,” Orrego said as a classically-trained cellist from the crowd had his go at the cello made from an oil drum and pallet. He was respectfully showed up by cello’s original owner, sixteen-year-old Noelia Rios.

In a place where a violin is worth more than a house, Orrego said, this is more than we ever had in mind. While Instruments Beyond Borders was unable to put a number to how much the Recycled Orchestra raised or how many instruments they collected during this most recent trip, Alejandro Rojas, a founding member of the charity organization, did say there were “literally rooms filled with instruments,” for both groups.

Rojas describes the charity as “just a humble component of this global movement.”

“It’s the kids who are really the stars — it’s all them.”

The youth orchestra played at various schools during its visit to Vancouver, including Killarney, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Vancouver College and Vancouver Tech. They also played to two sold out shows, for the second time in Vancouver, performing at the Playhouse and Museum of Anthropology. The group also visited Tapestry Music on West Broadway, the instrument depot where Instruments Beyond Borders stores the donated instruments.

“We want to show you that each piece of instrument has a different voice, each piece of garbage has its own sound and how, together, they are able to create a melody out of garbage,” Chavez said, pointing to the violin made from an old pan, and then to the snare drum made from an old x-ray of the drummer’s own stomach.  

The orchestra allows its members to travel the world and play music, even though none of the kids ever dreamed they would. The orchestra, Orrego said, teaches them more than just music.

“Brandon,” Orrego pointed to the 19 year-old bass player, “he is in university but he is also the administrator and did all the planning of the entire trip. Since they live on garbage, many of them don’t have future projections, it’s cool to see them learn how to plan.”

Following Vancouver, the Recycled Orchestra continued its tour with a stop in Seattle.

“We hope to bring some music, some culture and some of the garbage of Paraguay,” Chavez said.



Vancouver musicians to share the stage in support of Instruments Beyond Borders

by Yolande Cole on May 6th, 2015 at 4:05 PM

Members of Vancouver’s music community will come together at the Fei and Milton Wong Theatre on May 13 to support the work of Instruments Beyond Borders.

 Since it was founded in 2013, the organization has sent about $40,000 worth of donated instruments to the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura in Paraguay and to the St. James Music Academy in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

 “Our goal is to make a positive difference in the world, one instrument at a time,” Janos Maté, the founder of the group, told the Straight by phone.

The concert will feature performances from local artists including Ryan Guldemond, Jasmin Parkin, Colleen Rennison, Chin Injeti, C.R. Avery and Tonye Aganaba.

Aganaba said the artists will be sharing the stage in a workshop format.

"The whole idea is we want to show the collaborative nature of music," she said in a phone interview. "We also want to show that no matter what your background is...it’s possible to work together and create something beautiful."

Funds raised through the event will help the St. James program, which provides free, after-school music lessons to up to 200 children daily, to purchase more instruments.

Proceeds will also support capacity-building for the Paraguay orchestra, comprised of children whose parents make a living by scavenging a landfill. They construct their instruments from objects recovered from the site.

“It’s just so inspiring to see this happening,” said Maté. “Not only from an environmental perspective…but from the point of view of children being motivated to look to a more positive future for themselves.”

Aganaba said that while Vancouver is an artistic place, it's also a city "riddled with poverty", with many families unable to afford music lessons or instruments.

"The fact that St. James Music Academy takes it upon themselves to provide that is just fantastic," she said.