Escopetarra: Turning Guns into Guitars

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César López plays an Escopetarra at Bolívar Square in Bogotá.

Colombian musician César López’s guitar of choice isn’t a Gibson or a Fender or a Yamaha. It’s a home-styled Escopetarra, named after the escopeta (rifle) and the guitarra (guitar). Built from old AK-47s and other assault rifles, “the Escopetarra is a symbol of a life transformed,” writes Graeme Green in New Internationalist(September 2011). Each weapon was used in combat during Colombia’s unending civil war and represents the deaths of some 300 victims–and each was turned over to López willingly by either a leftist guerrilla fighter or a right-wing para­military soldier who chose to relinquish a life of violence. Today, the guns-turned-guitars help bring the art of peace to a war-torn country, and an Escopetarra has been requested for exhibition at the National Gandhi Museum in New Delhi, India.

López’s music contains an “unashamedly political” message, and he visits schools and prisons to offer an alternative to the violence that surrounds Colombia’s youth. To disempowered children, he explains, a gang seems to offer “power, recognition, stimulation, and a feeling they exist as social beings. Defeating and breaking down such ideas is the most complicated thing we have to do.”

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