Who would have thought that an AK-47 could be used to make music?
Last week as Lady Gaga and the F1 race took centre stage in Delhi, one musician from Colombia managed to inch his way into the hearts of music aficionados with his Escopetarra — a unique guitar-like instrument that is actually a modified AK-47.
Cesar Lopez" height="135" alt="Cesar Lopez" hspace="5" width="180" align="left" src="/newsimgfiles/2011/november/04112011/110511_09.jpg" />“It takes one finger to pull the trigger, while it takes 10 fingers and one heart to play a guitar,” says Cesar Lopez, 33, a musician from Colombia, who gave performed at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre. The idea of the Escopetarra first came to him during the 2003 bombing of the El Nogal Club in Bogota when Lopez saw a soldier holding his gun like a guitar.
A classical musician by training, Lopez donated an instrument last week to the Gandhi Museum as a symbol of peace. Interestingly, the gun that the instrument was modified from had been dropped into the jungles of Peru from a helicopter. “The weapons I use come from combatants and have claimed lives, which is why I make it a point to donate one Escopetarra each year to a country that faces terror and conflict,” explains Lopez. So far he has donated 17 Escopetarra across the world in countries like France, Brazil, Kenya, Berlin and Argentina. “In Colombia we have the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC guerillas, whose mode of operation is somewhat like the Naxalites of India. So I think that the concept of the Escopetarra fits in well with this part of the world as well,” says Lopez, who is on his first ever visit to India. Back home, he has created a community of musicians and young fighters who come together to relate stories of conflict. It is these narratives that help Lopez compose his music.
The Escopetarra has not only caught the imagination of the youth back home but also that of popular musicians such as the Latin American pop star Juanes. It isn’t easy to make an Escopetarra; handcrafted to perfection, this instrument costs around $3,000. Nearly 27 firing heads have to be removed with the help of a drilling machine, while the firing chamber needs to be taken out carefully. This is usually the handiwork of experts who are well-versed with the art of crafting musical instruments. “We usually get a regular supply of AK-47s from combatants who want to change their lives,” says Lopez.
With most countries enforcing strict security measures, Lopez has often been stopped at airports. This despite the fact that his guitar case carries several stickers of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with whom he has been working since 2006. For instance, at the Singapore airport he was detained and sent to jail for two days. “Sometimes, the airport officials do not stop me but ask me to play the guitar, sing songs for them and dance. So you see, it is not that easy,” laughs Lopez.