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Latino Daily News

Wednesday December 22, 2010

Guns into Guitars - Colombian Musician Breathes New Life into Symbol of Violence (VIDEO)

Colombia is a nation with a monumental capacity for creativity.  From García Márquez, to Fernando Botero; from Ugly Betty to the Local TV advertising world, Colombians seep creativity out of every pore.

Creativity doesn’t discriminate and with a horrific internal war raging for more than four decades, criminal creativity in Colombia often means that the insurgence has discovered a novel and unusual way to terrorize, or finance the terrorizing.

“Violence fears love because it is stronger,” Says César López, as he strums the strings of his atypical guitar. “Violence fears my voice because it goes beyond death.”

César López was born in Bogotá, the capital city. He is a classically-trained musician and composer who studied at Colombia’s top music conservatory. The nineties saw him jump to fame as the drummer of “Poligamia,” along with Juan Gabriel Turbay and Andrés Cepeda.

His apartment in Bogotá is filled with the tools of his trade, a baby-grand piano, guitars, amplifiers and the first prototype of his creation, the ‘Escopetarra.’

“What we want to create is an invitation to an attitude of change,” López says. “It says a lot of different things — but the main idea is that weapons can be changed from an object of destructiveness to an object of constructiveness.”

Close to the piano, resting on a black stand sits a Winchester lever action rifle. On its polished barrel are four hash marks, representing, says Lopez, the four people who, because of that rifle, lost their lives.

But the message transcends the gun’s history. López had a guitar maker stretch six metal guitar strings across the loading chamber, from the mid-point of the wooden handle, to a fret board threaded over the weapon’s barrel.

The prototype on Lopez’s wall, has evolved vastly.

“In the first one,” he says, pointing out the strings suspended above the gunstock, “the guitar isn’t well integrated with the gun. But it’s better now. The gun is in service to the guitar, which is the idea.”

It was during the 2003 bombing of the El Nogal club which killed 36 people in the capital’s trendy Zona Rosa district that Lopez got the idea for turning guns into guitars.“We were playing our music on the streets near the club,” he says, “when I noticed that a soldier was holding his rifle the same way I was holding my guitar.”

All of the weapons he uses come from a reintegration process, meaning these were weapons that were given up by a terrorist who decided to transform his ways and embrace peace, adding an extra layer of meaning to the Escopetarra.

“One of things that I have achieved is to get the guns of the people who have laid down their weapons and then transformed themselves,” he says. “It’s not the same as if the person was killed and the weapon was taken away.”

López brought Escopetarras to former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in New York City, the UNESCO in Paris and the House of Cultures in Berlin.

He has also given away two guitars to fellow musician Juanes (Juanes auctioned the first one to raise funds for victims of land mines)  Live-Aid founder Bob Geldoff, grammy winners Aterciopelados and singers Shakira, Julieta Venegas, Manu Chau and Fito Páez, who committed to use the instrument to promote social causes and raise awareness about the absurdities of the conflict.

López doesn’t want to mass produce his invention, as he is afraid the meaning embedded within the Escopetarra will be lost, watered down or defeat its own purpose and despite that many people have offered to buy the guitar from him, he says he respects the families of conflict victims and won’t look for financial benefit.

But his mission will not go on forever, he said.

César wants to find Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian designer of the AK-47 rifle, and give him the last Escopetarra. It will bring full closure to this adventure, he said.

“I think it’s going to be a very symbolic act where his creation returns to him transformed,” López said.