Los Prisioneros Regain Musical Freedom

Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

Los Prisioneros released their fourth studio album 13 years ago and then dropped out of sight. During the 1990s, the band -- one of the most respected in the history of Chilean rock -- lived on in reputation only.

Now, they are back to being an unstoppable success story.

This new chapter in Los Prisioneros' history began in 2001, when the group announced a one-night-only reunion show. After tickets sold out before the advertising campaign had even started, a second show was added.

Those shows, at Santiago's Estadio Nacional, drew more than 120,000 people and became the most attended musical event staged by any Chilean act. A live album recorded at the shows was released, a nationwide concert tour was programmed, and the band even toured the U.S., Mexico, Spain, Bolivia, and Peru.

Los Prisioneros released a new, self-titled studio album with 10 new songs June 5. The disc sold 20,000 copies during its first three days in stores, according to retailers. The set showcases the band's musical prowess better than any of its earlier recordings.

"We embarked on a project without knowing that it would become so big, so successful, and so long," drummer Miguel Tapia says. Los Prisioneros also includes bassist Claudio Narea and frontman/guitarist/songwriter Jorge Gonzalez.

The band released four studio albums on EMI between 1984 and 1990. The final album, "Corazones," did not feature Narea but was successful nevertheless. The remaining members decided to call it quits in 1992, after a celebrated show at Chile's Vina del Mar festival and a farewell tour.

All three embarked on solo careers or formed new bands but never achieved the level of success of the original act. A 1992 greatest-hits album proved the group's ongoing popularity, as did a two-CD package of previously unreleased material in 1996.

A big element in the success, according to Gonzalez, is that a new generation of fans, between 9 and 15 years old, had begun following the group. Now, this new fan base far outnumbers the nostalgic fans who witnessed Los Prisioneros' first act in the '80s. Gonzalez says, "This made it easier to plan a new album, because we could take any musical direction without worrying about alienating our old, diehard fans."

The popularity of Los Prisioneros in Chile is such that a June 5 record signing at retail giant Feria del Disco had to be suspended because the local city hall demanded an extravagant warranty payment to ensure security for the 10,000-plus expected fans.

The group has fierce political views. The band's current single is "Ultraderecha," a catchy, ska-infused rhythm with sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek social comments about right-wingers who appear to control government, religion, and economics in the name of freedom.

Making the new studio album is something its members consider the best part of the reunion.

"We always were considered a really creative group, so we obviously could not limit ourselves to concerts [playing only] old songs," Gonzalez says. "So many years have passed that it was a great moment to show all that we had learned, and an album is always like starting a new band. That is truly exciting."

Excerpted from the June 21, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.

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