Spanish teenagers make music from recycled junk

Cristina Vazquez, a Roma teen who grew up in a Madrid shantytown, never imagined herself playing the violin. But today she is the first violinist in an inventive orchestra bringing together two dozen other disadvantaged youths, using instruments made from recycled materials.

Cristina Vazquez, 18 years old, member of the
Cristina Vazquez, 18 years old, member of the "Music of Recycling" orchestra, plays violin during a rehearsal in Madrid. OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

Her violin is made from colourful soda cans, while a string bass has a skateboard for its body, and drums are made from plastic barrels.

The project, dubbed “Music of Recycling”, aims to breathe new life into discarded junk while also benefitting youths from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“I am really happy, because it has changed my life a lot,” said 18-year-old Vazquez, her eyes gleaming.

She hesitantly joined the orchestra at age 12 when it was part of the curriculum at her school in the southern district of Vallecas, one of Madrid’s poorest neighbourhoods.

Today she teaches younger members of the group. “The orchestra has really opened me up to the world… I had never even
gone to the centre of Madrid,” she said.

“I don’t know if I will become a professional musician… but I want to keep giving classes to young children.

“It fills you with pride when a young girl comes up to you and says: ‘When I grow up I want to be like you’.”

Luis Miguel Munoz, 18, credits the orchestra with keeping him on the straight and narrow in a neighbourhood like Vallecas, which has a high school dropout rate.

“Instead of meeting up with friends, I preferred to listen to music, play it, and little by little it became a way of life,” he said.

Members of the “Music of Recycling” orchestra, play music during a rehearsal in Madrid. Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

Belonging to an orchestra is like “being in a family, and doing what pleases us most,” said the bleach-blond Munoz, who sports a goatee.

Music “allowed me to escape life’s problems,” said Munoz, who sees himself becoming a professional flamenco percussionist.

The project is run by Spanish environmental group Ecoembes and is inspired by Paraguay’s Cateura orchestra, made up of musicians from a slum who play instruments made from materials found in a rubbish dump.

READ ALSO: Spain to ban plastic packaging for food and vegetables from 2023

After Ecoembes invited the Cateura orchestra to perform in Madrid in 2014, the group decided to found its own similar ensemble that same year, said Víctor Gil, the director of Music of Recycling.

“Why not here? We have social and economic problems,” the Argentinian said.

‘Recyclers of the future’

The ensemble put on its first concert just four months later and “the kids could not play more than four notes,” said Gil, who plays the bass made from a skateboard.

Now after having performed in cities across Spain, “we already have four boys studying in scholarships at music schools and public conservatories,” he added.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has put a temporary halt to performances. A concert planned for last Thursday in Madrid was called off at the last minute because of soaring Covid-19 infections in Spain.

Meanwhile, more than 100 children are taking music classes from members of the orchestra as part of the project.

The instruments are created by luthier Fernando Soler, a third-generation instrument maker, from cans, wooden boxes, cutlery and parts of discarded instruments.

He said he tries to make the instruments as close to their “normal” shape as possible so the children won’t have difficulty playing regular equipment in the future.

Soler hopes he will soon be able to restart his workshops on making instruments, which were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. He said his dream is to see one of his pupils become “the luthier of recycling of the future.”

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Why are there so many forest fires in Spain?

Increasingly there have been more and more wildfires across Spain, but why are there so many? Are they caused by extreme heat waves or are they started intentionally?

Why are there so many forest fires in Spain?

Wildfires have been sweeping across Spain this summer and some of the worst affected regions have been Extremadura, Castilla y León, Galicia, Andalusia and Catalonia.

This year in Spain has been the worst for forest fires in the last 10 years. Just over 200,000 hectares (495,000 acres) of forests in Spain have been lost to fire so far this year, more than in any other nation in Europe, according to the European Union’s satellite monitoring service EFFIS.

Some of the biggest fires have been in Zamora in Castilla y León, Las Hurdes in Extremadura and the National Park of Monfragüe.

In Tenerife, 2,700 hectares have been burned and 600 people have been forced to leave their homes.

READ ALSO: What to do and what to avoid if you witness a forest fire in Spain

While of course there has been an increase in fires because of the extreme heatwave over the past month, which has seen much of Spain experiencing temperatures well above 30°C and even into the low 40s, this is not the only cause.  

It has been revealed that 54 percent of forest fires in Spain are started intentionally.

“Around 96 percent of wildfires are caused by human activities and more than half, 54 percent of them are started intentionally”, said Raúl de la Calle, general secretary of the Association of Forestry Technical Engineers.

READ ALSO – MAP: Where are wildfires raging in Spain?

How and why are they started intentionally?

According to the latest data from the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office, there were at least 179 people investigated and arrested for intentionally starting fires in the first half of 2022.  

While not all the reasons for starting fires intentionally are known, the most common reasons that have been revealed by the Forest Fire Statistics (EGIF) from the Ministry of Agriculture are to remove scrub and agricultural waste, to regenerate grass for livestock, pyromaniacs, vandalism and to making hunting easier.  

“Arsonists, agricultural and livestock practices, revenge, issues related to hunting and economic activities,” are all to blame confirmed De la Calle.

Heat and lack of rain

Of course, not all forest fires in Spain are started deliberately. The high temperatures, winds and dry plant material, due to lack of rain in summer, all provide the perfect ingredients for fires across the country.

Declining rural populations in some of Spain’s regions are also causing more fires as fields are abandoned and plant life is left to grow wild. There are also fewer farm animals to help clear the land of scrub.

Spain’s Ecological Transition Minister Teresa Ribera last week stressed the importance of rural residents, saying they are “the real guardians of the land who are on the front line in the prevention of fires all year round”.