The Argentina Independent talks to rock and roll historian, radio host and author of nine books, Ezequiel Abalos, about his third book, ‘Rock de Acá: La Historia Contada Por Sus Protagonistas’. (Rock from Here: The History Told by its Protagonists). Abalos’ work, written in Spanish, is a complete history of the turbulent beginnings of Argentine rock and roll – commonly known as rock nacional.
When did you decide to focus your career on rock and roll, and more specifically, rock nacional?
Well, I bought my first record I was 13 years old. I remember it was an Alice Cooper album called ‘Billion Dollar Baby’. After listening to that first Alice Cooper record I knew music would be a part of my life forever. That’s what inspired me in 1992 to become a radio journalist and to start my own rock nacional radio show called ‘Rock de Acá’.
What compelled you to write a book about rock nacional?
If you go to any library or bookstore around here, anyone can see that there are a whole lot of books out there about rock nacional. But every book I’ve seen doesn’t take into account the beginnings of this tradition. You know, where and when it was born. They don’t take into account Sandro y los de Fuego, Los Gatos, or any of those bands that were the foundation for rock music in Argentina. I wanted to write something to fill that void – to talk about the important things that no one else had talked about.
Roberto Sanchez, popularly known as “Sandro” and ‘the Elvis of Argentina’ died on 4th January at the age of 64. In your book you talk about how Sandro and his group Los de Fuego were recognised for bringing rock and roll to Argentina by translating popular English-language rock songs into Spanish. How did you react to the news of his death?
I was sad. I was sad for a person who gave so much to music. Everyone who knew him said he was a very kind and generous person. He was a rock and roll pioneer in the early 60s. He was the one who started rock and roll in Argentina by translating rock songs. I think he’ll be remembered as a showman and as someone who went against the norms of rock and roll at the time.
But on the other hand he didn’t participate in the social movement of the 60s. He didn’t seem to want to be a part of that. By the end of the 60s Sandro had practically left the rock and roll scene entirely. To rock and roll, he became old news fast. By the 70s and 80s he had quit rock and roll entirely became too much of a romanticist for my taste. And because of that he’s known as the precursor of rock nacional. Sandro also lacked originality. Most of his songs in the early 60s were copies of Beatles songs or Buddy Holly songs, just translated into Spanish.
So yes, I felt sad that he passed away because he was a good person, but I can think of other rock musicians who did way more for the rock music in Argentina.
Like who, for example?
Like Luca Prodan from the band Sumo, Miguel Abuelo from Los Abuelos de La Nada, Moris from Los Beatniks. They took music from all over the country and all over the world and created something different. The one thing you have to remember is that rock nacional wasn’t just a copy of British or American rock and roll. You had people like Moris who took tango, milonga, cumbia, bossanova, and combined it with the rock and roll sound of the Beatles, the blues and jazz of black musicians like Chuck Berry and Ray Charles, and the folk sound of Bob Dylan.
So rock nacional wasn’t a copy like Sandro’s music was. Rock nacional was its own thing. It told stories of Argentines and their lives.
In the 1960s in the US and other parts of the world there was a great deal of political unrest and a radical social revolution taking place. And of course much of the English and American rock music of that era reflected that. To what extent did the political atmosphere of Argentina at that time affect the music?
Before the 1960s you should know that in Argentina most children went from childhood right to adulthood. There was no youth culture before the 60s – just kids and adults. But in the 60s the whole world began to see this global social movement – this movement from the youth against the Vietnam War and against the system. And you began to see that in Argentina, too. And that’s when the youth in Argentina began to take on its own personality. They began to develop an identity. For the first time the youth began to want things: they wanted to enjoy life, travel, take drugs, listen to rock and roll and be free.
But there was no freedom in Argentina at that time. It was a time of oppression – there was a dictatorship. The police used to arrest hippies and cut their hair, or arrest them and torture them. And when they were freed a lot of them took up their guitars and began writing songs. It was a way to protest their situation. Rock nacional became a motive to exist.
Rock de Aca, the book with a CD, is available at many independent bookstores around the captial, including Libros del Pasaje, Thames 1762, La Libre, Bolivar 646, as well as all the Musimundos and the bar at La Tribu, Lambaré 873.