Don Colá makes world-class instruments from the refuse of Asunción.
Every week, hundreds of Paraguayan young people come to the inviting Cateura Music School, home of the world-famous Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados de Cateura, for free music lessons. The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura (as it’s known in English) has toured the world with its inspiring story and music–a project begun in the precarious settlements around the massive trash dump in Asunción. And they play on instruments hand-crafted in Don Colá’s workshop just up the hill from the school, where he turns the things he finds in the Cateura trash dump into art, imagination, and dreams.
When we last visited him, Don Colá showed us a slab of cedar he’d found in the trash dump that very morning–“How many violins for the kids can come from this,” he exclaimed. And he was working on yet another violin made out of a discarded baking pan more commonly used for Paraguay’s baked delicacies: chipa guazú and sopa paraguaya.
A self-taught luthier, Don Colá previously worked as a recycler and ganchero (from the Spanish for “hook,” used to dislodge items from the trash heap) in Cateura and was approached by the orchestra’s music director to craft unique instruments for the students from whatever he could find. Today, one of Don Colá’s violins sits among instruments made by Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri in the Museo del Violino (Cremona, Italy).
We submitted a letter to Paraguay’s congress this morning, asking that Nicolas Gomez Martinez (Don Colá) be recognized for the national treasure he is, as he spends his days uncovering art in the unlikeliest of places and making dreams come true for Paraguay’s young people.
You can read, see, and hear more about how they got their start here, in Landfill Harmonic (video).