Against All Odds: Jungle Orchestra in Congo; Landfill Orchestra in Paraguay

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Gustavo Dudamel came into Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar Orchestra as a young kid from Caracas’ streets; the rest is history.   “The Dude”, now the dynamic young music director of the LA Philharmonic, has brought the world’s attention to the amazing Venezuelan music education system–called El Sistema–designed to get kids off the streets and into classical music.  See this earlier RP post (

Recently I’ve learned of two other orchestras that have survived despite all possible odds, and playing Western classical music no less.  The first is a 200+ member Congolese orchestra, The Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra– that formed despite poverty and in an impoverished country mired in a bloody, intractable war.  None of the musicians read music, and none had ever been outside of Congo’s capital, Kinshasha.     This was a recent feature on CBS’ 60 Minutes:  never mind the short ad that precedes it…..they’re playing Carl Orff’s classic Carmina Burana–of all things!.

Here is an interview:

Perhaps even more astounding is a group of poor Paraguayans living off a landfill in a remote village called Cateura, a town built on top of a landfill.   They are making instruments out of garbage to use in their orchestra.  The group is called The Landfillharmonic (great pun)  Look at the instruments and be amazed.  They’re playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, music of Mozart and Bach’s solo cello suite.  I am speechless.  Thanks to Janet P Lanet for sending me this via facebook.  There is also an upcoming documentary film on the group, now called The Recycled Orchestra.

Here is the film’s website description:

“Cateura, Paraguay is a town essentially built on top of a landfill. Garbage collectors browse the trash for sellable goods, and children are often at risk of getting involved with drugs and gangs. When orchestra director Szaran and music teacher Favio set up a music program for the kids of Cateura, they soon have more students than they have instruments.

That changed when Szaran and Favio were brought something they had never seen before: a violin made out of garbage. Today, there’s an entire orchestra of assembled instruments, now called The Recycled Orchestra.

Our film shows how trash and recycled materials can be transformed into beautiful sounding musical instruments, but more importantly, it brings witness to the transformation of precious human beings.”
There’s a forthcoming documentary film; here is the teaser:

in another video, young musicians talk about the orchestra:

The desire of these musicians to make music in spite of their circumstances is powerful testimony to their great humanity and courage. I am blown away by it all.