“THIS DATES BACK TO 1947,” he tells the curious audience in soft, rapid Spanish while hoisting what resembles an AK-47 assault rifle, “and is originally from Jordan. It was given to me by a Colombian revolutionary who did not want to fight anymore.” Flanked by two musicians on stage and clad in a symbolic white kurta, César López tells the story of how the weapon he holds would never hurt a soul. It is a rare and oddly peaceful fate for a gun from Colombia—a country that continues to face one of the world’s longest internal armed conflicts, and where in 2009 alone there were 13,851 firearm homicides.
A closer inspection of the AK-47, however, reveals some unusual embellishments: the forestock and barrel of the rifle are hidden behind a fretboard, and volume controls decorate the firing chamber. Although it may share the contours of a weapon, its insides produce the rich sounds of a guitar. And César López, who is introduced to the audience as a “musician and peace activist”, is its inventor. The escopetarra, whose etymology stems from the Spanish words for guitar and shotgun—guitarra and escopeta—is fashioned by extracting the violent interiors of a discarded AK-47 and carefully adorning it with musical paraphernalia.
A few hours before he is scheduled to play at a Music for Peace concert at the Delhi International Arts Festival, I meet the soft-spoken Colombian musician backstage. López is in Delhi on a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime initiative to gift an escopetarra to the National Gandhi Museum, and shyly mentions Gandhi’s influence on him as a child. When the absolute value of nonviolence is questioned, though, he is diplomatic: “Violence has its uses: it’s fast, it’s concrete but we’re trying to make music more effective.”