India: Striking the peace chord

Colombian musician César López and the 'Escopetarra' come to India

Violence rips the social fabric of any society and leaves scars that are deep and difficult to heal. It places a massive burden on national economies, costing countries heavily each year  by way of health care, law enforcement and lost productivity. Finding solutions to end violence and establish peace has never been an easy task. Colombia, for instance, has experienced an intense conflict for over half a century, causing thousands of civilian casualties and the displacement of more than 2 million people. Colombia is among the world's leading producers of cocaine, an illegal business that is worth billions of dollars. According to the Government of Colombia, drug money is a significant source of financing for armed groups in the country.

Strumming music for peace amidst the din of violence has been Colombian musician César López's response to the situation in his country, encouraging people to think about what they can do to change this reality. His tool for this task is his own creation - the 'escopetarra' - a guitar made from decommissioned AK-47 rifles. In Spanish, the word for shotgun is 'escopeta' and the word for guitar is 'guitarra'. Together, they become a powerful symbol of peace.

César came up with the idea of converting a weapon into a guitar after witnessing the aftermath of a bloody terrorist attack in February 2003. He and his friends reacted to the violence in the only way they knew: by playing music, to show their support for the victims and call for an end to the bloodshed. While performing near the site, López noticed that a soldier held his rifle in the same way he held his guitar. An idea was born and the first escopetarra was produced a few months later.

The rifles to create escopetarras are provided by the Colombian authorities. Once the firing components are removed, the weapon becomes incapable of firing anymore. Each escopetarra is donated to an international artist, an institution or an individual working for peace - to help them bring attention to the cause of ending violence and curbing the spread of small arms and light weapons. Colombian superstar Juanes was the first musician to receive the instrument. Other recipients include musicians, such as Fito Páez (Argentina), Manu Chao (France), Miguel Botafogo (Argentina), Bob Geldof (Ireland) and Eric Wainaina (Kenya). An escopetarra was also donated to the United Nations permanent exhibition on disarmament in New York and to the United Nations Office in Vienna.

Since 2006, López has been working with UNODC on a 'No Violence' campaign. Through the Office, César has received the funds and 17 assault rifles to produce escopetarras. As part of the campaign, López and other musicians have travelled to communities afflicted by violence to collect testimonials on video that are now shown at interactive concerts. The campaigners have also played in prisons, schools and universities. UNODC supports their work with young people, particularly with those linked to conflict and gangs.

This year, UNODC in association with the Embassy of Colombia in India, invites César to India, where he will be presenting the escopetarra to the 'Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Smriti' in New Delhi on 31st October 2011. He will also be performing at a 'Music for Peace' concert on 1st November 2011 at the Stein Auditorium, New Delhi as part of the Delhi International Arts Festival (DIAF) 2011. In addition, UNODC in collaboration with the Embassy of Colombia and the UN Information Centre (UNIC), will be hosting interactions with educational institutions and NGOs working on drugs and violence related issues.

Know more about Cesar Lopez at

Invitation for the 'Cesar Lopez - Music for Peace' concert in New Delhi, India on 1st November 2011. Entry is open to all.