The music makers

The musicians of the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura tell their stories.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze with Recycled Orchestra Director Favio Chávez at Cinema Village
Anne-Katrin Titze with Recycled Orchestra Director Favio Chávez at Cinema Village Photo: Ed Bahlman

Brad Allgood and Graham Townsley's Landfill Harmonic, co-directed by Juliana Peñaranda-Loftus and co-produced with Alejandra Amarilla, tells the story of the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, Paraguay and the members' voyage into the world of music. Ada Ríos and her sister Noelia Ríos, along with Azucena Azcona shared with me their adventures and what it has meant for them to be a part of the growth happening in their hometown.

Juliana Peñaranda-Loftus with Anne-Katrin Titze in a Landfill Harmonic conversation at Cinema Village
Juliana Peñaranda-Loftus with Anne-Katrin Titze in a Landfill Harmonic conversation at Cinema Village Photo: Ed Bahlman

The musicians play on instruments built from material gleaned from the Cateura landfill, the large dumping ground for garbage from Asunción, the capital city of Paraguay. Ada in the film shows that she is a big fan of Megadeth and we see a dream for her come true when the Recycled Orchestra meets David Ellefson, Dave Mustaine, Shawn Drover, and Chris Broderick and gets to perform with the band in Denver, Colorado.

The nightmare of the flooding of the Cateura region in June 2014 is documented in Landfill Harmonic and the rebuilding for the families who live there is still going on today. On Thursday, the 24 member orchestra, led by Favio Chávez performed in front of an enthusiastic international assembly at the United Nations.

Yesterday afternoon, right before coming downtown near Union Square, to perform following my conversation with Juliana Peñaranda-Loftus and an audience Q&A at Cinema Village, the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura received sad news from back home. Fernando Maldonado, a member of the orchestra, who was not able to come to New York due to illness, had died.

Favio and the seven members of the orchestra who came the theater dedicated their performance to Fernando and his family.

Recycled Orchestra of Cateura members Noelia Ríos, Azucena Azcona, Ada Ríos
Recycled Orchestra of Cateura members Noelia Ríos, Azucena Azcona, Ada Ríos Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: For you, Ada, it all began with your grandmother who was signing you up for music lessons?

Ada: Thanks to her everything that is happening is happening. It started with her signing me up for the classes.

AKT: Is she doing well?

Ada: She just lost her husband but she is very good. Everything is okay.

AKT: Has she seen the film?

Ada: Yes, she came [to the screening in Cateura].

AKT: Can you talk about the instrument you brought with you? What is it made of?

Ada: This is the cover of a paint tin can. The back is the underside of a baking tin, where you make bread in the oven. This is a fork, as you can see. The woods are palettes, they use them when they sell household goods. The chords, the strings are real violin strings. That's the only thing we need for it to sound okay.

AKT: What instruments do you play?

Ada's violin, built by Colá Gomez: "This is the cover of a paint tin can. The back is the underside of a baking tin ..."
Ada's violin, built by Colá Gomez: "This is the cover of a paint tin can. The back is the underside of a baking tin ..."

Noelia and Azucena in unison: Cello!

AKT: Talk about your experiences traveling the world with this film and the orchestra!

Noelia: It's a very beautiful experience that has no price. Thanks to the orchestra we are able to do so many things. There are a lot of dreams that came true. We met a lot of people and saw a lot of places and it's really a beautiful experience.

AKT: Were there any specific events that stand out to you? People that you met or places you went to that were really outstanding?

Ada: For me, obviously, it was meeting Megadeth. That's until today the most incredible experience for me.

Azucena: It was going to Abu Dhabi. Going to a place so far away, that was very special.

AKT: Tell me about Colá [Gomez] and your relationship with him and the instruments.

Ada: Colá at first was very closed but then being with us, he started to blossom. He is also specializing in making the instruments better and better.

Recycled Orchestra of Cateura Landfill Harmonic event announcement
Recycled Orchestra of Cateura Landfill Harmonic event announcement

AKT: What do you have to say about Favio, before he talks about you?

Ada: The first concept we had about Favio was that he was a very strict person and we weren't used to that. It was a little bit hard for us. But then we realized that his being so strict was very good for us. We understand now the importance of the way he was teaching us.

AKT: Are you still living in the same place?

Noelia: After the flood, thanks to the orchestra, we were able to move to a higher ground and safer area. That's where we are right now.

AKT: In the film, Ada, you say that you want to be a professional musician. Is that still the case?

Recycled Orchestra of Cateura performing at Cinema Village in honor of Fernando Maldonado
Recycled Orchestra of Cateura performing at Cinema Village in honor of Fernando Maldonado Photo: Ed Bahlman

Ada: Yes. I am now studying in one of the best private conservatories in Paraguay right now. Thanks to them and the orchestra that I am still part of, my music is getting better and better.

Read what Juliana Peñaranda-Loftus, Alejandra Amarilla and Favio Chávez had to say about the evolution of Landfill Harmonic.

On Tuesday, September 13 at 8:00pm, Landfill Harmonic will screen in Washington D.C. at the Avalon Theater, as part of the Environmental Film Festival, followed by a performance of the Recycled Orchestra. Graham Townsley, Juliana Penaranda-Loftus, and co-producer Jorge Maldonado will present the film.

Landfill Harmonic is in theaters in the US.

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