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World Music Features    Tom Zé    World Music at Global Rhythm - The Destination for World Music
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Tom Zé
By Derek Beres

Published November 22, 2006

Click Here For The Video
http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1256280124/bctid1127701426

On the homepage of his website, Brazilian singer Tom Zé looks like an ad for Body Worlds, a traveling exhibit of plastinated humans created by German anatomist Gunther von Hagen. The show is perhaps the most revealing public display of human interiors ever devised: cadavers mounted in common positions: playing basketball, riding a bicycle, mounted on a horse. What’s missing is their skin, or sometimes muscle on others you see only a network of nerves delicately removed from flesh and blood. Plastination is a unique technique in which putrefaction is halted by stopping natural decomposition and replacing bodily fluids with polymer solution. Online Zé, an original badboy of the infamous Tropicalia, is growing from the floor in statuesque pantomime, the blank expression on his face as convincing as von Hagen’s specimens.

In a weird way, Zé creates sonic plastination, replicating recognizable snippets of Brazilian and Western pop melodies, dissecting them like a mad scientist with utmost precision, a true Mary Shelley of surround senses. Then again, everything Zé does is in a weird way if Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, his Tropicalia brethren, were screaming anti-war poetry with mulatto afros and screeching guitars, he was the sinisterly quiet corner keeper reciting verse about atomic energy, Euclidean geometry and Kafka to himself. Zé has always been the oddball creating pop that’s not really pop, a camouflage of Portuguese metaphysics wrapped inside music ready for television commercials for circus tours. Nearing 70 years of age, some things never change.

 

And yet, within these seemingly ocular, definitely slippery songs exists a deep penetration of inner ideas accessible to certain artists. Zé is like the village shaman everyone respects even if they’re not sure why. They simply know he’s powerful, important and somehow necessary to the functioning of normal society, even if he lives well outside of it. It’s this imaginary power, his ability to create lucid universes with mind and lips, drawing listeners in. There’s no surprise, then, that the king of unfocused focus has created, of all things, an operetta about women’s rights.

 

“The intention is not to sophisticate, or to defend a superior condition,” Zé said of his latest record, Estudando O Pagode (Luaka Bop). “On the contrary, the intention is to popularize, capturing the listener’s attention through a method of succession in which each song responds to another song, each song is a rebuttal to the next song. Many times, in one song, there can be two completely different opinions that are debated. Through these songs, a woman begins to be assaulted and offended and then, little by little, they create a defense argument that advocates for respect in relations with men.”

 

He goes on to admit the operetta idea arose partially from humor, a purposefully playful way of discussing subjects like the unspoken slavery of women (“Since men create history, for them it is not even an issue to comment on the constant, general and definite female slavery.”). The story is composed of 16 vignettes arranged like one-act plays, or chapters i

Recommended Listening

 

Postmodern Platos

Luaka Bop, 2002

A remix collection of Fabrication Defect, bringing Zé to the dance floor…kind of. Tracks by Sean Lennon, Amon Tobin and Tortoise—the band that would later back him up across North America—these electronic cuts are as endearingly intimidating as the originals.

 

Fabrication Defect

Luaka Bop, 1998

Always seeking a concept, Zé turned to life’s imperfections here, tackling the concepts of youth, stupidity and dancing and swirling the imperfects through the eyes of “subhuman androids,” an endearing term created to describe Brazil’s third world ghetto dwellers. Weaving samba with accordions, kitchen utensils and Portuguese poetry that would make Fernando Pessoa proud, there is little imperfect in his defection.

 

Brazil Classics 4: The Best Of Tom Zé: Massive Hits

Luaka Bop, 1990

What more can be said: a collection of Zé’s brilliance, or madness, or other term you find applicable. This is the classic that launched the Brazilian bard into the American public, also helping create the image Luaka Bop would thrive on for the rest of the decade: quirky and stellar samba/bossa beats from down under (America, that is).

 

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