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Amidst the whispered threats of nuclear war, a speech about a man’s dream for the people of his race, and “a giant step for all mankind,” the Argentine band Los Beatniks rose to fame, and then fell just as quickly.
The 60s were a turbulent time not only for the rock band but most countries across the entire world. The political battles, that fortunately remained mainly fought with ink and microphones, dramatically rocked relationships between countries, continents and even cities; the Berlin Wall was built in 1961.
Argentina was no exception to the time of national instability. In the thick of numerous political coups and worker revolutions Los Beatniks were born, and despite having only a few minutes of fame the band helped lay the foundations for the genre that would become known as Argentine rock.
Formed in the early 1960s the band got their start in the town of Villa Gesell in the province of Buenos Aires. Los Beatniks was formed by Moris (Mauricio Birabent) on lead guitar and lead vocals, Antonio Perez Estévez on bass guitar, Javier Martínez on drums, Pajarito Zaguri on guitar and vocals, and Jorge Navarro on keyboard. They first became known by playing at the Juan Sebastián, a local bar in the small seaside town.
On the 2nd June, 1966 they recorded their first single Rebelde, “Rebel,” which is still considered today to be their most well-known song.
The upbeat rhythm of the drums along with the familiar twang of a 60s guitar rift accompanies a fairly simple and repetitive vocal line. Written in the middle of the counterculture movement, the peace and love message from the young hippy generation is obvious in the lyrics. It also has a very Beatles feel to it, no coincidence, given the popularity of the “Fab Four” in Argentina.
The song is certainly catchy and something one easily finds whistling a few hours after having listened to it.
However, the song wasn’t as catchy as the band had hoped and only 200 copies were sold. In an attempt to stay in the spotlight, which was quickly shifting to a different area, the musicians of Los Beatniks intentionally created two public scandals.
The first involved the musicians playing nude in a public fountain for a photo shoot. The photos were published the next day in the tabloid magazine Así. The then military government of Juan Carlos Onganía was not impressed and quickly censored the magazine. As a result the musicians were detained for three days.
Despite the scandal, their sales did not increase and so they tried again. This time the band drove through town in a truck with the musicians playing “Rebelde” in the back while speakers blasted the music throughout the streets. Many people stopped to listen but afterwards the band still did not see any spikes in their profit charts.
Shortly afterwards the band broke up because of their lack of popularity. Moris, the lead guitarist and vocalist, went on to start his solo career while drummer Javier Martínez joined Alejandro Medina and Claudio Gabis to form the band Manal.
The only other song the band recorded before dislodging was No Finjas Mas, “Pretend No More.”
Although the band lasted little more than a few years their impact was profound. To this day they are considered one of the founding fathers of Argentine rock.
Argentine rock is music composed or made by Argentine bands or artists that is sung only in the Spanish language. For nearly half a century it has been a major popular genre, and it is considered part of the popular music tradition of Argentina alongside tango and folk music.
Before the national genre, rock and roll was sung predominantly in English and very closely mirrored the popular English tunes of the time. Then several garage groups started composing songs and lyrics that related to local social and musical themes. The defining quality is their uncompromising stance to sing rock only in the Spanish.
Soon an entirely new and unique to Argentina genre was born, and despite their quick rise and fall, Los Beatniks can say they were one of the first of its kind.
Genre: Rock Nacional
Most Well-Known Song: Rebelde
Best lyric: ¿Por qué el hombre quiere luchar / aproximando la guerra nuclear? / ¡Cambien las armas por el amor / y haremos un mundo mejor!
“Why does man want to fight / and bring us closer to nuclear war? / Change weapons for love / and we will make a better world!”
Best to listen to: Driving through the streets of Buenos Aires, in true Beatniks style.