Radio Loony is an Argentine radio station run by psychiatric patients at a hospital in Buenos Aires. Founded to give patients a voice, it became a big hit and now has more than 12 million fans.

Dr. Alfredo Olivera founded Radio Loony – or  Radio La Colifata as it is known in Spanish – to help patients rebuild links to the outside world and to improve social understanding of mental illness.  Olivera was still a student when he came up with the idea. He realised that putting the residents in charge of a radio station would allow them to express themselves and tell their own stories.

Twenty years later it is still going strong. With its appealing collection of music, poetry and chat the programme quickly gained a wider audience – including the Spanish singer Manu Chao.  The award-winning musician became involved with the station after reading an article in a newspaper. He visited the radio project, talked to patients, supported music workshops and talked about recording an album with the residents.

Two years ago the album, Viva La Colifata, was eventually finished. It features songs about life, love, death, mothers, tango, sunshine and the Pope. Music critics describe the album as compelling and moving, a free-flowing mix of Manu Chao’s punky world music and the unique improvisations of the patients. 

Chao knew ‘how to listen to the rhythm of each person,' says Dr Olivera, adding, ‘The process (of making the album) was very positive, not only because it tackled the social stigma of mental illness but because it helped people leave the hospital and develop their own autonomy’. 

The album is available as a free download via VivaLaColifata.org though the Borda Neuropsychiatric Hospital is grateful for donations.

Or listen to a YouTube extract: {youtubejw}mTfV6MHi8wM{/youtubejw}

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