Making music with guns

A Colombian musician has gifted his ‘gun-guitar’ to Gandhi museum in New Delhi, writes Madhusree Chatterjee

When guns become roses, it makes music. Colombian rock musician Cesar Lopez, who is in the country to perform at the ongoing Delhi International Arts Festival, sings songs of peace with his gun-guitar — an AK-47 modified into a six-string electric guitar to symbolise the healing power of music.

Cesar Lopez with his gun guitar
Cesar Lopez with his gun guitar Photo courtesy: Embassy of Colombia

Lopez, a UN messenger of non-violence in his native turf — Colombia in South America — donated his gun-guitar to the Gandhi Smriti Museum In New Delhi recently.

The gun-guitar joins the ranks of permanent peace memorabilia as a part of the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)’s peace programme across the world.

Lopez’s gun-guitar is one of the 17 gun-guitars in the world commissioned by the UN to campaign for peace in crime-prone and terrorism-ravaged nations.

"There is one such guitar in Berlin, one at the Unesco office in New York and one each in Brazil, Argentina and Vienna," says the musician.

The guitar has been crafted by a Lutheran priest-cum-innovator from an old AK-47 gun that Lopez got from the UN.

"The bullet-chamber of the gun, the trigger and the safety latch had to be sealed — and a wooden stringboard with the frets had to be fitted to the gun to put the strings.

"After stringing the gun, we had to wait to see whether the tension of the strings was right. The socket for the bullet was converted into a compression hole for plugging in. The guitar produces the same sound as of a normal guitar," adds the musician.

Gun-guitar — an AK-47 modified into a six-string electric guitar
Gun-guitar — an AK-47 modified into a six-string electric guitar

The butt of the gun is used as the guitar headboard.

Lopez has a difficult time at airports convincing the authorities that "it is a guitar, not a gun".

"The idea to convert a gun into a guitar struck me after a Colombian soldier smashed my guitar at a site of a bombblast in a high-end club in Colombia in January 2003. I tried to jump through a military cordon. I are two young men with almost identical weapons — an AK-47 and a guitar — both of which are slung across shoulders and held the same way," Lopez says.

Lopez went to the priest, who was involved in a disarmament programme for the militia, and asked for a gun.

"He brought me my first gun — an old machine gun which I improvised on to make a guitar and sang songs of peace. The UN appointed me as a messenger of non-violence in my country and found me an AK-47," Lopez says.

Before playing his gun-guitar, Lopez was part of a symbolic rock band, Artistic Battalion of Immediate Reaction, which collaborated with survivors of bombblasts, drug-related violence, crime and inmates of jail on therapeutic music projects.

"I go wherever there is violence and disaster in Colombia to sing my songs of peace," Lopez adds.

The lyrics of the songs are sourced from the victims, who send Lopez their life stories, which he composes to music. — IANS