Tom Zé - Biography

By Nick Castro


Tom Ze is a Brazilian singer and musician, born in 1936, in Bahia, Brazil. Ze was influential in the Tropicalia movement of the  60's often having a fierce critique about society and government. He also had a strong conviction about the dedication to new and avant garde art forms, whether it be music or poetry. Ze made an attempt to retain a fresh perspective through his long and difficult career. After the decline of the Tropicalia movement most of its artists went off into lucrative solo careers but Ze faded into obscurity until his rediscovery by David Byrne, of Talking Heads, for his Luake Bop record label. Since, Ze has made a tremendous comeback and released several new works which have been lauded for their insight and originality.


In 1968 Ze was included with fellow musicians, of the Tropicalia movement, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Os Mutantes and Nara Leao, for a an album called TropicaliaL Ou Panis Et Circensis (1968 - Polygram), which was produced by legendary Brazilian mastermind of the psychedelic era, Rogerio Duprat. Duprat would go on to produce many of the solo records by these artist, always leaving his unique mark and flair for studio trickery. Though Ze was not one of the featured artists on this compilation, he can still be heard to have a unique voice and mix in his dadaist interpretations of sound. His first solo record would follow that same year entitled Tom Ze: Grande Liquidacao (1968 - Rozemblit/Sony). This album marked his first experimentations with music as he utilized backing band, Os Brazoes, to provide the setting for Ze to wind in and out of. This record is not an easy listen as Ze tends to challenge his listeners, yet he still has a mastery over songcraft and writing hooks.


Ze's next albums were Tom Ze (1970 - RGE) and Se O Caso É Chorar (1972 - Continental), where he chooses a more acoustic and folky sound over which to recite his poetry. Some of this material would later be issued on the David Byrne compilation, Brazil Classics. Overall Ze continues to establish himself as a formidable voice in the Brazilian music scene but sales were slow and Ze slowly became discouraged. His next album was released as Todos Os Olhos (1973 - Continental) which features an image of what appears to be an eyeball but upon closer examination one can see that it is a marble in someone's anus. This was Ze's commentary on the strict dictatorial censorship of his home country at the time. Musically the album is one of his most forward thinking yet and Ze began to incorporate the use of typewriters, homemade instruments and various alternative sound sources.


Ze's record production was beginning to wane even further but he managed to release one more album before the 70's were over. Correio Da Estacao Do Bras (1978 - Continental), would be his final statement from the era. This is considered by many to be his masterpiece due to Ze's exploitation of quirky songwriting craft as well as his excellent wordplay. Many of these songs have been reissued by the Luaka Bop label.


Poor sales and diminishing attention to his art led Ze to return to his hometown and work in his cousin's gas station until 1989, when Byrne, while on a trip to Brazil managed to locate Ze after hearing his music on a second hand LP. Ze would become the first artist signed to Byrne's newly forged label, Luake Bop. Ze has enjoyed a resurgence of acclaim and live concerts. Since signing with the label he has much of his old music reissued and has also recorded new albums, Hips of Tradition (1992 - Luaka Bop) and Fabrication Defect: Com Defecto De Fabricacao (1998 - Luaka Bop). His newest albums are Jogos De Amrmar (2000 - Trama), Danc-Eh-Sa:Danca Dos Herderiero Do Sacrificio (2006 - Tratore) and Imprensa Cantada 2003 (2007 - Trama).

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