As Colombia’s civil war continues to displace hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and leave many victims in its path, César López is using music to produce awareness, comfort and understanding during a conflict that has gone on for far too long. Traveling the country and talking to people of various troubled regions, he’s heard countless stories of violence. And now, he’s giving voices to people who would otherwise go unheard.
López is most known for his role as the former drummer of the 90s rock group Poligamia, but he’s quickly gaining recognition for making music with a social message. Many years back as a teenager, he first showed curiosity for what was happening in his country by launching “the Album of the Absence,” an investigation project involving playing free concerts in places like jails and psychiatric hospitals.
After Poligamia eventually dissolved, the percussionist formed the Artistic Battalion of Immediate Reaction, comprised of a group of musicians who were supposed to immediately “react” to violent acts through musical art. “If there was a bomb in any city, we would go there like the Red Cross,” he recalls, “accompanied with instruments to help the victims who were scared or angry.” López soon figured out that his art would be the way to recover stories from the conflict zones and bring them to the attention of the general public.
Following the 2003 FARC bombing of the Club El Nogal, César came up with a controversial invention that would immediately give a visual and deep reminder of the war to his fans: the Escopetarra.
López hired instrument designer Luiz Alberto Paredes to decommission AK-47s recovered from guerrilla groups and decommissioned paramilitary soldiers, and use their fuselages as the bodies for electric guitars. But the process wasn’t that simple. López used a bit of philosophy, having personally inspected each gun to make sure they would be good candidates. All of them come from a reintegration process, which is the most meaningful part of the instrument.
“One of things that I have achieved is to get the guns off the people who have laid down their weapons and then transformed themselves,” he says. “It’s not the same as if the person were killed and the weapon was taken away.” That’s why he has turned down offers in the past to convert weapons by some deceased rebel commanders, including FARC strongman, alias ‘Raul Reyes’.