As 'La Balsa' Turns 50, Litto Nebbia Reflects on His Argentine Rock Landmark

Guido Adler
Litto Nebbia

Argentine rock's founding singer-songwriter is celebrating half a century of his iconic tune "La Balsa" -- a landmark for Argentine culture. While he revisits his own legacy, Litto Nebbia also prepares for the return of the B.A. Rock festival in October.

"I wake up every morning 'round 7, play the piano and write," Nebbia says, not to a question but rather to a gesture that came from impact, admiration and a little bit of envy. The living room of his house in Tire -- 130 years old -- is a restored garage where, rather than rubble, he's got 14 bookshelves with 22 thousand records, according to him, which escort a magnificent Steinway piano. "It was a present I gave myself when I turned 50," he explains.

On June 19, Argentine rock's earliest song, which Nebbia wrote with Tanguito in the bathroom of La Perla bar in Once neighborhood, turned 50 itself. "La Balsa," by Los Gatos, is legendary in every sense. Not only because it is the first Spanish-language rock hit -- it sold 250,000 copies -- but also because of the artistic risk that the band assumed in a time where, in order to break the mold, one had to be willing to go hungry.

Nebbia has a cold. He's back from a tour around Chaco and Santa Fe provinces, and he didn't take the necessary precautions. He asks for some tea, and offers coffee. He's got to look after himself. He's going through a moment of great activity, and besides, in October this year, he will be one of the most important figures of B.A. Rock festival's return, in line with the celebration of Argentine rock's 50 years of age.

Nebbia sat down with Billboard Argentina to reflect on the landmark song:

It's been half a century since "La Balsa" was published. Is the date special to you or is it just one more date?

That something that had me as one of its main protagonists should turn 50, and to be playing still ... it is exciting. It goes beyond if the song is good, bad or how many records it sold. Those are just accessories to the story. It's quite a date, isn't it?

"La Balsa" has a Farfisa organ riff, pretty advanced for the time it was written. In the United States, one could hear it in bands like Question Mark & The Mysterians. Did you have access to those records?

Most of those underground psychedelic bands became known five or six or years ago because of the fever of reissues. We knew about The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the main English bands: The Kinks, The Zombies, The Animals, The Yardbirds, Manfred Mann. Then, from the United States, the bands that came later on, such as The Byrds or The Lovin' Spoonful, plus all of Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa. Then came any amounts of groups. It was impossible for us to have those records. Not even those which I mentioned were being released here. Those guys recorded for multinational labels, but the decision to release them here was a local decision.

You always had more feeling with British bands rather than American groups. Why?

The British always had more original stuff, even today. It's another thing. They have a creative feel that other American groups, good as they may be, don't have, even though they've got firm roots in the blues. The British brought back something the Americans were ignoring. Many black blues and jazz performers wouldn't have had a place to play if they hadn't gone to Europe. They were ignored, amazingly.