In a slum built atop a mountain of trash, the sound of music can be heard. Look closely at the instruments responsible for that sound and you may very well become breathless. At the very least, you’ll be humbled. Never has the statement been more appropriately portrayed: one man’s trash is another’s treasure. This is the story of the Landfillharmonic.
The world generates a billion tons of garbage each year. Some of that trash makes its way to Cateura, Paraguay, where it settles to stay. Among the discarded rubbish that serves as the town’s landscape are children, an inspired music teacher, and an innovative instrument maker, all of whom see their surroundings as so much more than trash.
They recognize it as opportunity.
Where the world sees oil barrels and worthless wood, Favio Chávez and the children of the Recycled Orchestra saw the makings of a cello. The deeper they dug, the more they discovered. Violins, guitars, drums, flutes – among the junk of the world exists everything an orchestra would need to perform Mozart, Beethoven, and other classical masterpieces. Lanfillharmonic was born.
Garbage picker turned luthier Nicolás “Cola” Gómez magically transforms the trash he and others find into priceless instruments. Known in some circles as the Stradivarius of South America, Gomez had never seen nor heard of a violin before he made his first one. He relied on simple instructions.
He’s now a master of his craft.
Executive Producer Alejandra Amarilla has always dreamed of making a documentary about her native country, particularly one that shed light on children’s causes. Discovering the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura was the perfect opportunity for her to bring her dream to life.
She and her team created an impactful trailer that was released on the web a few years ago. The trailer was designed to help crowdfund the making of a full-length film.
The Kickstarter campaign was a success, having raised $215,000 (Amarillo’s goal was $175,000).
From that trailer, national news outfits like 60 Minutes also took notice, and shared the orchestra’s story. World recognition, donations, and invites to perform began to pour in.
As part of the 60 Minutes airing, the children of Cateura were given brand new instruments to play. While the sight was emotional, it begged the question: would this orchestra matter to the world if they put down their ragtag instruments?
But it appears that question need not be answered. While the orchestra gladly accepts donations and new instruments, they’ve continued to tour the world with their same recycled violins, cellos, drums and more.
One would assume that living in a landfill does not provide the type of inspiration to spark imagination. But the children of Cateura are an example of how powerful outside-the-box thinking can be. Throughout history, the most memorable of inventions were grounded in extraordinary concepts – concepts that others laughed off and discarded … like the mountain of trash that has become the bedrock of a world-renowned orchestra.