What do you do if you have nothing to play with? When everything in your country has been destroyed by war? During the civil war in Angola, children transformed spent ammunition into toys or musical instruments. The Angolan musician and instrument maker Victor Gama showed 10-year-old children at a Dutch primary school how to make their own instruments. (Source: Radio Netherlands Worldwide)


"Have you ever seen this instrument?" Victor Gama looks questioningly at the children gathered in the gym De Vlinderboom school in West Amsterdam, the Netherlands. "This is the kissange, which is also known as a thumb piano." He fills the hall with magical soft sounds as he plays the wooden soundboard with iron keys.


The children listen in silence. One boy whispers softly, "Really cool!" Gama stops playing and the year-seven class bursts into applause. "How are these instruments made? Do you make them all on your own?" Gama and his thumb piano evoke lots of questions. The musician has the air of a magician. Behind him there are two big boxes, from which he conjures up his special musical instruments during the lesson.



Ammunition box as soundboard

While the instruments are passed around, Gama tells the children about the war in his country. "You heard something about the war every day. Who are the most vulnerable in a war? That's right, the children, very good, two points!" Gama opens the next box. "This box contains an instrument made by children like you in Angola. Who knows where Angola is?"


An old ammunition box, three pieces of brushwood and some thread. Every piece was found in the battlefields around the Angolan villages of the Rio Cubango region and they have been put together by children. The ammunition box serves as a soundboard with thread stretched over the brushwood.

Gama explains that a lot gets left behind in war¸ empty bullet for instance shells. "Like after New Year's Eve; then the streets are also full of used fireworks," the teacher illustrates. "Music is very important in Angola. Almost all children there have a musical instrument, which they have made themselves," Gama says.



Strange but impressive at the same time

At the end of the lesson there is time to make music. The children play their instruments to their heart's content. What is the highlight of the workshop? "The instruments," answers Isah. The children are impressed by the idea that children their own age make the instruments themselves. "I think it's funny that they make something so beautiful from bullets," says Isah.


Ten-year-old Jamilia is also surprised by so much creativity. "I think it is very special. I don't think I would have thought of it myself. Maybe if I lived there. Because then you have almost nothing."


"I hope that you keep on making music at home," Gama ends the lesson.


Victor Gama is in the Netherlands for a few more days. On Saturday he performs his Rio Cubango programme at the Concertgebouw (concert hall) in Amsterdam.

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