Turning guns into guitars

The Battalion of Immediate Artistic Reaction is a group of Columbian musicians and political activists who are tired of Colombia’s four-decade old civil war. They are committed not only to making music, but also making peace; by making positive changes for Colombia, reducing the violence, and teaching people to live together.

Cesar Lopez founded the organization in 2003, after the bombing of the El Nogal nightclub which killed 36 people in the capital’s trendy Zona Rosa district. The unnecessary violence gave Lopez an idea. “We were playing our music on the streets near the club,” says Lopez, “when I noticed that a soldier was holding his rifle the same way I was holding my guitar.”

He then set out to convert used guns into musical instruments. “In the first one,” explains Lopez, “the guitar isn’t well integrated with the gun. But it’s better now. The gun is in service to the guitar, which is the idea.” Lopez gets the guns through an anti-land mine group connected to Colombia’s peace commissioner’s office. Most of the firing components are removed so it can no longer be fired. Then a guitar maker adds the fretboard, strings, and neck as well as an input for an electric amp.

Cesar Lopez is a classically-trained musician and composer who studied at Colombia’s best conservatory, but instead of concert hall performances he chooses to play his music on the streets of Bogota. Using the Internet, the Battalion of Immediate Artistic Reaction mobilizes every time there is some kind of guerrilla attack in Bogota, heading out into the streets to serenade the victims with soothing music.

“Violence fears love because it is stronger,” Lopez says.
“Violence fears my voice because it goes beyond death.”

“What we want to create is an invitation to an attitude of change,” he says. “The main idea is that weapons can be changed from an object of destructiveness to an object of constructiveness.”

As the inventor of the escopetarra — his term for a rifle transformed into a guitar — Cesar Lopez breathes life into instruments of death. In response to the violence that has plagued his home in Bogota, Colombia, Lopez has discovered a way to channel this violence into “art, where creation triumphs over destruction.”

Lopez’s home country, Colombia, has been plagued by civil war for the past five decades. Conflicts between the state, left-wing guerrillas, and shadowy ranks of for-hire paramilitaries have resulted in entrenched violence. Inspired to make his art part of the solution, Lopez created the escopetarra, a guitar that is made from an AK-47, the most used rifle in the world. As he says, “If the weapon, which was designed to kill, if its use can be changed, then why can’t humans change too?”

Cultures of Resistance made a short film about Cesar Lopez’s work…

To learn more about Cesar Lopez and the Battalion of Immediate Artistic Reaction, and to hear some of their music, visit www.cesarlopez.org