Orchestra offers Mexican youth alternative to violence

World Today

In Mexico, violence and poverty are leading many of the youth to join drug cartels.

And political leaders are challenged to offer alternatives to gang membership.

CGTN’s Alasdair Baverstock reports on a program in Acapulco using music.

11-year-old Jose Angel Lopez comes from the slums of Acapulco, one of the cities hardest-hit by Mexico’s cartel violence.

He’s smart, outgoing and ambitious an ideal candidate for recruitment by organized crime, something his mother knows all too well.

“There are a lot of kids who spend their time in the streets, out late at night. The criminals take advantage of them, since they are innocent, they begin to involve them in their work,” said Ana Iris Lopez a Acapulco resident.

Kids his age often start-out as corner lookouts; but in Acapulco, cartel gangsters are likely to end up in prison or dead. So Jose Angel is concentrating on something else – the clarinet.

“In addition to what you learn in school, playing an instrument is another skill that helps you in life. If young people want to make something of themselves, they can do it, it’s just a question of applying themselves,” said Jose Angel Lopez a youth orchestra member.

He now plays in a local youth orchestra founded specifically to keep kids like him on the straight-and-narrow, and as his mum sends him off to band practice, she’s safe in the knowledge he’s bettering his future.

Under the mango trees of an Acapulco community center, the orchestra’s 42 members meet to practice on a daily basis, filling one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods with beautiful music.

“The idea is for us to build strong principles. Teamwork, respect, discipline, responsibility. With those, as I tell our teachers and parents, that they won’t only be useful for them in learning an instrument, but for everything they do in life,” said Olimpo Pineda, the youth orchestra director.

The group’s renown is growing; they played at Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s inauguration in Mexico City last year, and many alumni have gone on to professional careers, inside and outside of music.