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The Obscure Music Club

Tom Zé – the rediscovered genius

  • By: Alo
  • Category: Music

Tom Zé (11 October 1936 Irarà, Bahia) was one of the most original and independent figure in the Brazilian 1960’s Tropicàlia movement. Zé contributed, along with Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Os Mutantes, and Nara Leão, to the watershed Tropicália album/manifesto Tropicália: ou Panis et Circenses (1968). He also participated in a series of concerts with the musicians.

After the Brazilian military government of the 1960s began to crack down on the musicians of Tropicália, Zé moved out of the public eye and began to experiment with novel instruments and composition styles, standing out as one of the most eclectic intellectuals of Brazil. While the other major figures of Tropicália would go on to great commercial and critical success in later decades, Zé slipped into obscurity in the 1970s and 1980s…
Until the early 90’s when David Byrne, during a visit to Rio de Janeiro, discovered an album recorded by Zé many years earlier: Estudando o Samba (1975). Zé was the first artist signed to the Byrne’s world music-oriented record label Luaka Bop and has so far released a compilation and two albums, all of which received positive reviews from critics in the United States.

Student of the composer Ernst Widmer (student in his time of Bartók and Stravinsky), Tom Zé was not accustomed to travel and more rooted to the territory, with a discography as a few other bumpy. Is style has been noted for both his unorthodox approach to melody and instrumentation, employing various objects as instruments such as the typewriter. He has collaborated with many of the concrete poets of São Paulo, including Augusto de Campos, and employed concrete techniques in his lyrics. Musically, his work appropriates Samba, Bossa Nova, Brazilian folk music, Forrò and American rock and roll, among others. He has been praised by avant-garde composers for his use of dissonance, polytonality, and unusual time signatures.

Here you are a short clip on him from Luaka Bop and a couple of tracks from the album that has struck David Byrne, Estudando o Samba!