Tue, Mar. 07, 2006
Making music out of menace
A Colombian musician has fashioned guitars out of rifles to help spread a message of peace.
BY STEVEN DUDLEY
BOGOTA - Street musician César López was playing in front of a Bogotá country club destroyed by a guerrilla car bomb when he noticed an army guard carrying his rifle the same way López plays his guitar.
''I saw that our body movements were the same,'' López said. ``He had his gun. I had my guitar. And BOF! It hit me.''
The first escopetarra -- a combination of escopeta and guitarra, the Spanish words for rifle and guitar -- was born a few months later.
The model was part Winchester, part Stratocaster, and all López. The 32-year-old musician has long been involved in efforts to use music to ease the pain of violence in this war-ravaged country.
ROCK STAR APPEAL
The escopetarra landed in the hands of then Bogotá Mayor Antanas Mockus. Others went to Argentine rocker Fito Páez and to the United Nations. Colombian rocker Juanes recently auctioned off his for charity. López says other requests for the novel instruments have come from Colombian pop star Shakira and Brazilian musicians Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso.
''We're not trying to sell them or get someone to pay for them. We're just trying to get the word out,'' López told The Miami Herald.
The strategy seems to be working. In January, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos promised López 12 AK-47 assault rifles, the first three from a 2-year-old peace process between the government and right-wing paramilitaries -- known by their acronym AUC -- that has led to the demobilization of about 24,000 fighters and the surrender of thousands of weapons.
The AUC has been fighting left-wing guerrillas here for 20 years. The rebels have been fighting the government for 40 years. The war leaves as many as 3,000 soldiers and civilians dead every year.
''We don't only want weapons from the AUC, but from all the groups, including the army,'' López said. ``We want people to see that all the groups are turning in their weapons.''
It may take some time. While the AUC and the smaller of Colombia's two leftist guerrilla groups, known by the acronym ELN, are engaged in peace talks with the government, the largest rebel group, known as the FARC, remains far from the negotiating table.
López's experiment with the guitar was years in the making. He said his father was a journalist who inspired him to become a student of the world. He studied piano at various universities before becoming a street musician and parlaying his experiences into a string of socially conscious artistic endeavors.
A few years ago, López opened his home studio's doors to tape other street musicians. They later held several joint concerts, what they called ``Invisibles and Invincibles.''
López and some of his band mates also interviewed victims of Colombia's war and produced several CDs, one of which they called Resistance.
''We were in it for money and fame,'' he explained of his first few years as a musician. ``And one day it was like, click, why are we doing this?''
When the car bomb exploded in 2003 in front of Bogotá's most famous country club, El Nogal, killing more than 30 people, López and his mates got government permission to stand side by side with the soldiers.
''We found the worst human invention, which is the gun, and the most beautiful, which could be a guitar,'' López said. ``And in the end . . . the gun dies and the guitar is born.''
'BATTALION' OF MUSICIANS
The experience at El Nogal led to the creation of the so-called ''Rapid Response Artistic Battalion,'' made up of López and his friends, who give free concerts in areas hit by violence.
To make a living, López plays concerts and composes music for movies while spreading his antiwar message.
As part of his commitments with the vice president's office, he is helping several victims of land mines form a bongo group. The group has decided to call itself the ``One-legged Ones.''
To each his own I guess. As for my opinion: That's a waste of a perfectly good gun for hippie BS peacenik shit. This reminds me of the fawking gun outside of the UN building...