Juan, a collector of old furniture and appliances using the famous Fierro Viejo recording, at work in Ecatepec, Mexico. (Photo by Nain Leon, SuperRare Magazine)

¡Se compraaan colchooones! NFTs bring provenance to an iconic Mexican soundbite

How a stolen recording that empowered thousands of impoverished Mexico City residents finally returns to its creators

May 5, 2022 Art

2 months ago

This week, a famous 20 second long audio clip, stolen and utilized by thousands to make money over two decades, returns to its rightful owners via the Ethereum blockchain.

Maria Del Mar Terrón Martínez was nine when her father, Marco Antonio Terron, approached her with a cassette player.

“Oye,” he said, “give me a hand, we’re going to make a recording.”

It was 2005. At the time, Marco earned his living towing a cart through the streets of Mexico City, shouting requests for scrap metal and discarded appliances into alleys and open windows, seeking residents looking to unload used microwaves or mattresses.

Maria (right) and her father, Marco (Photo by Nain Leon, SuperRare Magazine)

In the evenings, he would return to their small, cement-block home in Ecatepec, a municipality of over two-million residents just north of Mexico City. Plagued with poverty and scarce on water, Ecatepec is one of the most dangerous places in the country, with over a thousand femicides recorded in the last decade alone.

Shouting all day was taking its toll, but Marco had a plan. One night, after waiting until the street vendors quieted and the stray dogs calmed, he asked Maria to repeat the words he chanted all day into the recorder’s microphone. Breaking the night’s silence, she created the now iconic recording known to all Mexico City residents:

“Se compran … colchones … tambores … refrigeradores … estufas … lavadoras … microondas … o algo de fierro viejo que vendan!”

Fierro Viejo recording at work. Clips by: Guillermo Olmedo and Fortu & Mendoza

Other scrap collectors took note. Copies were burned, over and over, until the recording known commonly as the “Fierro Viejo ” had been duplicated thousands of times. Today, Maria’s voice is heard daily, blasting from megaphones attached to pickup trucks across Mexico City, as emblematic of the culture as tacos al pastor or vendors on the Metro. 

Despite the pervasiveness of the now registered copyright (not to mention its use in movies and albums), Maria and her father have received next to nothing for their intellectual property. Like artwork released on Instagram, the recording replicated through a network beyond their control, and as with art, it is NFTs that could return ownership to the creators.

Minting Maria

Gus Grillasca is an anarchist and Bitcoin maximalist born and raised in Mexico City. He speaks globally at blockchain conferences and records podcasts about digital property. On any given Friday, he can be found debating Bitcoin’s merits in local taquerias, clasping a beer with fingerless gloves. Trained as a chemical engineer, in 2017, Gus turned his attention to cryptocurrency’s potential to revolutionize finance and undermine ruling classes. He now occupies an office filled with books on economics, political philosophy, and Rare Pepes. Portraits on the wall can be scanned through his app to view their associated NFTs.

“There’s this girl in Mexico City named Raquel,” he said. “She came up with this very entertaining idea of doing an NFT for the original creators of the [Fierro Viejo].”

Raquel, an American expat, reached out to Maria to propose the project, then invited artists to participate. “She called me in December,” Gus said, “ offering me the main commission for the art.”

Gus, a SuperRare artist, saw an opportunity to communicate a message.

“For me, immediately, it became a challenge to show people how, through NFT fundraising, you can do way better than going through the traditional channels, through the traditional Mexican copyright mechanisms,” he explained.

This was a chance to make a statement, a declaration of the independence attainable through blockchain.

“The exciting part for me is to show someone like [Maria and her father] that, despite being completely non-technical, they can monetize any idea they have immediately with crypto,” he said. “This is an exercise, a way to show other people how they can potentially monetize without the intervention of lawyers and regulation.”

The artwork Gus created, to be minted through SuperRare this May, depicts Maria and Marco, driving a rusty flying pickup truck (think: Jetsons-era Kieth Urban video) filled with old appliances and mattresses, floating through a nondescript cityscape with a futuristic rendition of Fierro Viejo blasting through a megaphone. The sale proceeds will be split between the creators, with a percentage flowing into the hands of Gus, and the lion’s share to Maria and Marco.

Gus thinks crypto can bring forth a more equitable society, and that such ideas might first take root in countries like Mexico, where citizens might have less faith in existing power structures than nations like the US.

“Artists in Mexico are very aware of the value proposition of NFTs and crypto,” he noted. “My feeling is that most of the people hating on NFTs, and cryptocurrency, in general, are Western privileged people that don’t really understand the value proposition of sobering money. But in Mexico it is pretty clear.”

Gus admitted that crypto might have a difficult adolescence, but he expressed confidence in its long-term prospects.

“With Bitcoin, we have for the first time this sobering money that is very hard to confiscate,” he said. “For me, that’s a game changer. Like people fleeing from Ukraine today is not the same as Nazi Germany decades ago, because they can move all their wealth in a pen drive, or even memorize their seed phrase. I think that’s a game changer because it limits the capacity of a group in power to just confiscate the wealth of everyone else.”

Although many people believe that the crypto markets are chaotic, Gus contends that it’s our current traditional financial systems that are truly unhinged. “Most people think that we live under some international law system that keeps them safe from tyranny,” he told me. “Whereas, we believe it’s the complete opposite: We live in absolute anarchy, but most people live [under the illusion of] safety because they think there’s a privileged class that is looking after them.”

Speaking with Gus, I’m reminded of a 2018 quote by journalist Chris Hedges regarding the difference between American Democrats and Republicans: “There’s a difference [between them],” Hedges observed. “It’s how you want corporate fascism delivered to you. Do you want it delivered by a Princeton-educated, Goldman Sachs criminal or do you want it delivered by a racist, nativist, Christian fascist?”

“[Those in power] can steal, they can kidnap, they can lie,” he said. “And that’s ok because those are the ruling class. And I think it is pretty clear that if you frame it like this, it’s pretty obvious that there is something wrong.”

From Left to Right: Marco, Gus, and Maria (Photo by Nain Leon, SuperRare Magazine)

For Maria, minting the Fierro Viejo NFT comes with less idealistic goals. It provides a way to give back to her family for creating something that’s empowered her impoverished community for almost two decades. “I know where I come from and I know who I am and I know where I’m going,” she expounded, standing in her home with Gus and I, holding two of her children while a third peeks naked from his bedroom door. “Of course, I am very Mexican. And that I’ve been able to help many people who are now using the recording to support their families, I like that very much.”

She credited their lawyer, a family friend, for encouraging them to pursue this NFT project. “She was the one who told us, ‘Hey, you know what? This is a fantastic thing. This project is going to work.’ We still have a lot to learn [about crypto] but, as long as it is for a good use, here we are with Gus.”

We all laugh. “They already have their crypto wallets,” Gus added. “They’re already Bitcoiners.”

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Luke Whyte

Luke Whyte is SuperRare's Editorial Director.

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