Tue, Jan 24, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Colombian transforms warfare into music


It has a long, 16mm barrel and wooden butt, but there's no confusing this shotgun with grandpa's Winchester.

For starters, the only thing it fires is music. And to get one, you either need to be an international rock superstar or have US$13,000 to spare.

Called the escopetarra -- Spanish for "shotgun guitar" -- it's actually an electrical guitar transformed from a once deadly weapon reclaimed through Colombia's peace process.

Cesar Lopez, a musician from Bogota, got the idea for the instrument following the deadly Feb. 2003 bombing of a social club in the capital that killed 36 people and injured more than a hundred.

"With a group of artists we rushed to the rescue sight to play music as a form of protest against violence," said Lopez, 32. "I was holding a guitar while standing next to an armed soldier and I realized how similar we looked."

Lopez has handcrafted five of the eye-catching instruments, which cost about US$1,000 to make. One he gave to Grammy-winning Colombian rocker Juanes and another to Argentine musician Fito Paez.

Now the Colombian government is enlisting the shotgun guitar as part of its campaign to bring about an end to 41 years of armed insurgency.

On Wednesday, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos handed Lopez two AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles that until recently belonged to a group of outlawed, right-wing paramilitary fighters involved in the country's long-running rebel conflict.

The weapons were decommissioned last month when 552 members of the Central Bolivar Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia laid down their arms, joining some 14,000 other illegal fighters who have demobilized in the past three years as part of a peace deal with the government.

"It's an eerie feeling when you grip the weapon -- there are notches under their barrels to mark how many people the combatant killed," Lopez said.

With the government's backing, Lopez hopes to churn out 100 of his new machine-gun guitars by the year's end.

Carlos Santana and Paul McCartney are on a long list of musicians who have requested one of their own, according to the vice president. The first recipient will be Colombian pop singer and Latin crossover sensation Shakira.

"These weapons which have caused so much pain, damage and death will be resurrected as instruments of love, color, life and creativity," the vice president said during the handover ceremony.

It remains to be seen whether parents and family values groups will view the instrument as an anti-war symbol or criticize it as another example of the music industry's glorification of violence.

The government plans to donate each weapon free of charge in exchange for each musician's promise to speak out against violence and serve as a goodwill ambassador on behalf of Colombia's peace process.

Spreading such gospel might not be easy. When he brought his escopetarra along on a recent national tour, Juanes faced numerous delays fending off the curious looks and enquiries of vigilant Colombian police accustomed to spotting hidden weapons.

By contrast, sneaking the instrument into the US was a breeze.

"Everyone was scared of getting caught, but a roadie packed it away with the rest of the instruments and nobody said a thing," said Fenian Martinez, Juanes' manager.

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