Quickly after his invention, César López turned to the international community to bring Colombia’s conflict to the forefront of social awareness. Of the 20 ‘Escopetarras’ that have been made, one was given to Kofi Annan at the United Nations in New York City, the UNESCO in Paris, the House of Cultures in Berlin, and the Museo de Antioquia in Medellín.
He has also delivered the guitars to such world-class musicians friends as Juanes, Live-Aid founder Bob Geldoff, singer Manu Chau, Fito Paez, and Aterciopelados, among others. Choosing who receives an Escopetarra is also a well thought-out process. If social change is not a part of an artist’s message, then they’ll be denied one.
“Many artists contact me and tell me that they want one,” states López. “But there is a special council who decides whether or not they deserve it. It depends on the merits which the artist holds in the social field.” It’s somewhat of a “touchy” subject to work with these instruments. That’s why this musician chooses not to commercialize it. Many people have offered to buy the guitar. But his respect for the families of conflict victims leads him to avoid looking for any financial benefit.
While César López has gained more recognition for his social projects involving AK-47s, many people will be surprised to know that he’s actually a classically trained composer who prefers the ivory keys of the piano to his guitars or drum sets. López produces a major classical work every five years.
Even accomplished rock stars still have dreams, and César López is no exception. One of his life-long goals is to listen to his music live in a symphonic format. On the social front, he has visions of creating and publishing a directory that chronicles the conflicts in Colombia and how music has served as a vehicle of social transformation in various regions throughout the country.
In the meantime, he’s getting ready for the release of his new project “Toda Bala Es Perdida,” (Every bullet is a lost one) on August 25. The new album contains 17 tracks, all personally composed by López and sung by famous Colombian artists, including Fonseca and Andrea Echeverri among others. Each track has its own personal story and social topic from the country’s armed conflict, such as chronicles of victims’ reparations and violence against women in places like Apartadó and El Salado.
“Each song has a story and a pamphlet, maps, dates and statistics for a particular conflict so that people can go within the context and get to know about them,” explains López. “The music is nourished by the stories that people tell us.”
Meanwhile, the debate goes on in the international community about whether art, particularly music, can be used by as a tool on the battlefields of war. Recently, a Holocaust survivor danced and sang at the former site of the Auschwitz death camp to the beat of the classic 70s tune “I Will Survive,” in a gesture of self-freedom. It has sparked a response of praise by some and outrage by others.
The Escopetarra has also evoked its own share of positive and negative reaction, but César López says that most people “get it” when it comes to his instrument. He believes that it delivers a good message that gives attention to victims’ personal tales of war. López says he too will eventually lay down his guitar guns soon. He plans to track down the original Russian designer of the AK-47 rifle, Mikhail Kalashnikov, and give him the final Escopetarra, marking the last destination on a journey that has taken him across Colombia and the world.
“I think it’s going to be a very symbolic act when Kalashnikov’s creation returns to him, transformed,” López declares. “I’m still going to play, but just with my guitar. I won’t continue delivering them to other artists.”