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Tom Zé

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Irará, Bahia, Brazil (October 11, 1936 – present)

Born Antônio José Santana Martins, October 11, 1936 in Irará, Bahia, Brazil, Zé is a representative of Brazil’s alternative sound, not only because of his use of objects as instruments, but also for his attitudes and for his eccentric, vivid style. Influential in the Tropicalia movement, Zé contributed — along with Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Os Mutantes, and Nara Leão — to the watershed tropicalia album/manifesto Tropicália: Ou Panis Et Circenses. While the other major figures of would go on to great commercial and critical success in later decades, Zé slipped into obscurity in the 1970s and 1980s.

Remaining true to the experimental and dada impulses of , Zé has been noted for both his unorthodox approach to melody and instrumentation, employing unique instruments such as a 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 , , Brazilian folk music, forró, 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.

In the early 1990s, Zé’s work experienced a revival when American musician David Byrne discovered one of his albums, Estudando o samba (1975), on a visit to Rio de Janeiro. Byrne went on to release a compilation of Zé’s material as well as two full-length albums of new songs on his Luaka Bop label. A guitar riff from Zé’s song Jimmy, Renda-Se is sampled on R&B singer Amerie’s song Take Control.

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