Land­fill Har­monic

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Land­fill Har­monic. gancheros, Land­fill Har­monic’s Garage. Land­fill Har­monic Joe’s

Ca­teura is a slum com­mu­nity of ram­shackle dwellings erected along­side (and built with ma­te­ri­als from) a garbage dump in Asun­ción, Paraguay. Many of the in­hab­i­tants are re­ferred to as peo­ple who comb through the refuse look­ing for valu­able ma­te­ri­als to sell. The dump and the vil­lage oc­cupy a pre­car­i­ous spot within the his­tor­i­cal flood­plain of the Paraguay River.

Favio Chávez came to Ca­teura for a re­cy­cling project, which didn’t pan out. But he stuck around, ded­i­cat­ing his ef­forts to a dif­fer­ent plan. “When I was young, mu­sic was the first thing that gave me a sense of pur­pose,” Chávez re­calls in the Kick­starter-funded doc­u­men­tary “Thus I de­cided to teach mu­sic to the chil­dren of the gancheros.”

But how do you learn to play mu­sic with­out in­stru­ments? The poverty de­picted in Ca­teura is at a level that the av­er­age Amer­i­can hasn’t en­coun­tered. Most of the houses are more like en­camp­ments. An­i­mals wan­der freely from the garbage-lined creek beds, through the vines and trop­i­cal veg­e­ta­tion that choke the wind­ing paths, and in and out of the spa­ces in­hab­ited by Chávez’s young stu­dents and their fam­i­lies. “We had a few in­stru­ments that peo­ple had do­nated,” the in­struc­tor says, but “Ca­teura is not a safe place to have a vi­o­lin. In fact, a vi­o­lin is worth more than a house.”

En­ter Ni­colás “Cola” Gómez, a ganchero with ex­pe­ri­ence in wood­work­ing. He starts work­ing with Chávez to con­struct in­stru­ments from re­claimed refuse. An old oil drum forms the body of a cello. Dis­carded X-ray film serves as the skin of a drum. Gómez bends the tines of a fork to form the tail­piece of a vi­o­lin, con­nect­ing strings to each one. And lit­tle by lit­tle, Chávez be­gins teach­ing lo­cal chil­dren to play these in­stru­ments in a per­form­ing en­sem­ble — the Re­cy­cled Or­ches­tra of Ca­teura.

At this point you may be think­ing, OK, the an­gle here is ob­vi­ous. In­spi­ra­tional movie tells in­spi­ra­tional story about man in­spired to help kids in tough cir­cum­stances by in­spir­ing them to play mu­sic. In­spir­ingly. And yes, this is the be­gin­ning of the story, but it’s not the end of it. Not by a long shot. We haven’t even got­ten to the part where the kids from Ca­teura meet the mem­bers of Me­gadeth.

Ob­vi­ously, there are grow­ing pains along the way. Learn­ing to play the vi­o­lin isn’t easy — for the stu­dent or for any­one within earshot. (I can vouch for this per­son­ally, judg­ing from my fam­ily’s re­ac­tion to my ill-con­sid­ered brush with the in­stru­ment in the early 1980s.) The young mu­si­cians fea­tured most promi­nently in the film are vi­o­lin­ists, and they per­se­vere through a very tough learn­ing curve on the way to­ward pro­fi­ciency. The en­sem­ble’s sound starts out screechy and raw, and even­tu­ally co­a­lesces into some­thing more dis­tinctly mu­si­cal, but an el­e­ment of wild­ness re­mains, at least in the per­for­mances shown here.

co-di­rec­tors Brad All­good and Gra­ham Towns­ley present this story plainly and di­rectly, let­ting the hu­man re­la­tion­ships at the heart of the film speak for them­selves. We see bonds form and strengthen be­tween the mu­si­cians, their fam­i­lies, and one an­other. Chávez is the or­ches­tra­tor of the whole project but makes no ef­fort to claim the spot­light, steer­ing the kids through mu­si­cal and so­cial quan­daries alike with rock-solid calm and hu­mil­ity. He’s some­thing of a life coach as well as a mu­sic in­struc­tor. (“Play with­out fear. Never be afraid to play!”) Above all, he em­pha­sizes the power of op­por­tu­nity, and it seems to in­fect ev­ery­one he en­coun­ters.

The most ex­hil­a­rat­ing part of is see­ing the chil­dren grow in con­fi­dence and en­thu­si­asm as the or­ches­tra brings new and ex­cit­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties to their lives and into their com­mu­nity. Chávez notes that he came up with the or­ches­tra project be­cause he feared that the chil­dren of the gancheros were des­tined to be­come gancheros them­selves. Watch­ing dogs, chick­ens, and pigs make their way through the mud and de­tri­tus, and see­ing the plants strain­ing to­ward the sun­light, it seems clear that life will al­ways find a way. And where there is life, there is mu­sic.

A sim­ple but pro­found state­ment comes from Ta­nia Vera, one of the vi­o­lin­ists: “With­out mu­sic, my life would be mean­ing­less.” This could just as eas­ily have been said by any­one, re­gard­less of their cir­cum­stances. I was re­minded of the words of Frank Zappa — specif­i­cally, a few lines from “Packard Goose,” from the coarse and bizarre rock opera

“In­for­ma­tion is not knowl­edge. Knowl­edge is not wis­dom. Wis­dom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not mu­sic. Mu­sic is the best.” — Jeff Acker

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