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Tom Zé: Jogos de Armar
Bahia's Tropicalista Wizard

Jogos de Armar

Jogos De Armar

Album Notes by Ricardo Pessanha: Jogos de Armar – Faça Você Mesmo is the latest work of the mad genius Tom Zé, a musician whom Greg Kot from The Chicago Tribune regards as “one of the world’s great musical innovators.” Classically trained  Tom Zé was never ordinary. Since the sixties, his music has incorporated sanding machines and drills, found sounds and surreal poetry as well as guitars and drums. “I was unable to make normal music and thought I had no professional future,” says Zé. “I challenged myself to do everything possible with a guitar in my hand to make people pay attention. I didn’t know what to call what I was doing. Then I started working with the people who would create Tropicália, and this un-music, this anti-music, gave me a context in which to create,” he added.

Tropicália was a landmark in Brazilian popular music. It was a brief movement that lasted roughly from 1967 to 1969, but it changed Brazil’s music radically. Tropicália greatly encouraged musical experimentation and hybridization, and gave all the musicians who came after it a great sense of freedom. And Tom Zé played an important role in the development of the movement. Created by Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé and others, Tropicália was based on the concept of creating an iconoclastic mixture of music in which everything would have its space. Brazilian folklore, The Beatles, Chuck Berry, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Paul Sartre, João Gilberto, everything would be cannibalized and put into the stew. Tropicália tunes were aesthetically daring and consistently brilliant and the lyrics would be sometimes poignant, other times surreal, always provocative.

Tropicalia Essentials

Tropicalia Essentials

In Tropicália anything went: rock and samba, berimbau (wooden bow with metal string and gourd resonator) and electronic instruments, folk music and urban noise, the erudite and the kitsch. And 62-year-old Tom Zé is the last Tropicalista. But it took a long time for the world to notice that. After the end of Tropicália, Tom Zé released 5 albums in the 70’s and then moved on to the ostracism that lasted an  unbelievable 15 years (he made only one record in the 80’s). During this dark period he even thought of giving up on music entirely and returning to his native Irará, a small town in the hinterlands of the state of Bahia.

But it all changed in 1990 when former Talking Heads leader David Byrne produced a compilation – The Best of Tom Zé – and released it in the USA. “When I first heard Tom Zé’s records 10 or 12 years ago, I thought, here was a guy who would fit right in with the downtown experimentation crowd I grew up with, who grew up listening to the avant-garde and to pop and were combining them in their own music,” said Byrne to The Chicago Tribune in an interview in 1999. “I thought he would fit right in with anyone in New York, Chicago or London making this kind of music, so why not put it out? Yet it has a Brazilian flavor in the melodies, the grooves and the gentleness of the voice, the sensibility, which is a refreshing change from some of the more obscure and aggressive tendencies of the Western avant-garde. Tom’s vision of doing things avant-garde is like a big ‘yes’. And that whole movement he was from was like, ‘Yes, I’ll have some of this and some of that, and some of that too,’ ”Byrne continued.

Now with Jogos de Armar, Tom Zé restates his iconoclastic, revolutionary and always surprising side. It’s not a double album, but the CD comes with a second disc entitled Cartilha de Parceiros. This “auxiliary CD” features, separately within each track, the basic elements that go into the arrangements of the songs on Jogos de Armar. The idea is to give everyone the opportunity to make his/her own mix/participation in the tracks. This is Tom Zé’s suggestion-incitement: anyone should be able to be his partner in the creation.   

Produced by Alê Siqueira, with the musical direction of Gilberto Assis, Jogos de Armar - Faça Você Mesmo comes with 14 tracks, most of them brand-new material. Tom Zé himself penned them all, with the exception of the standards "Pisa na Fulô" (by João do Vale, Ernesto Pires and Silveira Junior) and "Asa Branca" (by Luiz Gonzaga and Humberto Teixeira).

On three tunes, Tom Zé introduces a new rhythm: chamegá.  According to him, the first part of  "Chamegá", a song written by Vicente Barreto, embodies "a specific genre with a guitar that has its accent on the eighth note after the downbeat of the drums, with a specific groove on the bass, on the percussion, etc." These same characteristics are found in "Passagem de Som" (written with Gilberto Assis) and "Medo de Mulher". The launching of the contagious Chamegá rhythm was accompanied by its corresponding dance, presented live by renowned choreographers and dancers during the shows Tom Zé staged in Brazil to promote the new album.

The repertoire on Jogos de Armar - Faça Você Mesmo also brings interesting crossings of genres like the maracapoeira. This irresistible beat mixes the maracatu (heavy Afro-Brazilian processional music) on the drums and the capoeira (Afro-Brazilian martial art) rhythm on the cavaquinho (a four-stringed instrument similar to a ukulele). The maracapoeira can be heard on "Jimi Renda-se" (written with Valdez) and "Moeda Falsa". Another highlight on "Jimi Renda-se" are the lyrics, full of delicious nonsense puns.

Other examples of rhythmic syncretism are the chameguinho-choro "Peixe Viva (Iê-Quitingue)" (written with Zé Miguel Wisnik), the baião-acalanto "Conto de Fraldas", with its fantastic lyrics full of Northeastern tongue twisters, and the samba-rap "Perisséia" (written with Capinan). 

Tom Zé also focuses on the living condition of the Brazilian people, and he does it with intense poignancy. Jogos de Armar features some testimonies to Tom Zé's worries with songs like "A Chegada de Raul Seixas e Lampião ao FMI", the dramatic "Sonhar (Sonho da Criança-Futuro-Bandido da Favela, na Noite de Natal)" (written with Sérgio Molina), "Desafio" (with Gilberto Assis), that tells of the social inequities in Brazil, and "O PIB da PIB", that talks about child prostitution in the Northeast.

Among Tom Zé's most recent creations is another tribute song to São Paulo, the metropolis where he has lived for the past 35 years. Following previous tunes like "São São Paulo", "A Briga do Edifício Itália com o Hilton Hotel", "Angélica, Augusta e Consolação", and "Botaram Tanta Fumaça", now is the time for "Cafuas, Guetos e Santuários."

Closing the record, Tom Zé surprises us with superb renditions of two classics of Brazil's popular music. "Pisa na Fulô" comes as a powerful electric forró (generic name for dance-oriented Northeastern styles) that is one of the most lighthearted tracks on Jogos de Armar - Faça Você Mesmo. "Asa Branca" appears in one of its most peculiar versions: the baião (Northeastern song style with syncopated melody) rhythm is kept by the zabumba (Northeastern bass drum), but it is "corrupted" by the bass, the electric guitar and the accordion.

Simultaneous sonorous events coming from apparently uncombined sources fill the tracks on Jogos de Armar. These events enrich and enhance the level of musical complexity of the work. Some instances of this characteristic are the unusual instrumentation and vocals, like the electrifying feminine vocalese on "Passagem de Som" (“a logical-Cartesian-sonorous orgasm", as Tom Zé puts it), the whistling solo on "Peixe Viva" and the parallel vocals on "Sonhar', performed by the singer in contracanto, that is, sung as a response to the main theme.

Another major feature on the album is the debut of the experimental instruments created by Tom Zé - the instromzémentos. It all started with the hertz, or hertzé, a kind of pre-sampler sampler. Tom says, "the newspapers called the instrument 'the Brazilian sampler'. I built it in 1978. When the multinational electronic sampler appeared, around 1980, I said, 'OK, I'll throw mine away'. But the media complained, 'You're crazy? Yours is completely different!' "

Another instromzémento is the enceroscópio, made of floor polishers, vacuum cleaners and blenders. Contact mikes capture the vibration of the metallic parts, not the noise of the motors, send the sound to a mixing board and then to a keyboard. "The audience listens to the sound only when you, through the keyboard, activate a certain mike positioned in an appliance," explains Tom.

The serroteria is an instrument made of pipes of wood, PVC and other materials "arranged in a way that allows the musician to use a saw as a violin bow to create the sound". The buzinório is a group of car horns activated by a keyboard. And there are also the Lazzari pens - a small instrument made of ballpoint pens. The use of the instromzémentos is not justified by the originality only. They point to the incorporation of noise into the music of our times and they play an important role in the overall conception of Jogos de Armar. The noise produced by the instromzémentos is musical noise.

Com Defeito de Fabricacao (Fabrication Defect) [BMG]

Fabrication Defect

Tom Zé – A Brief Biography

Tom Zé was born in Irará, a city in the interior of the Northeastern state of Bahia, in 1936. Between 1962 and 1967 he studied in the prestigious music school of the federal state university in Salvador - the capital of Bahia. There,  he had classes with avant-garde musicians such as Hans Joachin Koellreutter and Ernst Widmer. In São Paulo he participated in competitive music festivals and took part in Tropicália, a movement that revolutionized Brazil’s music and culture.

In 1968, Tom Zé won the first prize of the Record TV music festival with “São São Paulo”, and “2001”, a song he wrote with Rita Lee, finished fourth, performed by Os Mutantes. That same year, together with Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Nara Leão and Os Mutantes, Tom Zé recorded Tropicália’s seminal album – Tropicália ou Panis et Circensis. His debut album – Tom Zé – also came out in 1968.

In the 70’s, he released five new albums – Tom Zé (1970), Tom Zé (1972), Todos os Olhos (1973), Estudando o Samba (1976) and Correio da Estação do Brás (1978). The show that promoted this last album marked the introduction of the instruments Tom had started to build. At this point, Tom Zé went into a period of ostracism that would last around 15 years. The market didn’t have space for Tom Zé’s elaborate and original music. He released only one record during the 80’s – Nave Maria (1986).

Rediscovered by singer/songwriter David Byrne, Tom Zé’s career found new roads from 1990 on. That was the year David Byrne released a compilation of Tom’s songs in the US – The Best of Tom Zé. The album was acclaimed by the American press, including The New York Times, beginning a long series of positive reviews. During the 90’s, Tom Zé toured the US and Europe a couple of times, playing at prestigious jazz festivals and avant-garde music clubs. In Brazil, his work started to be consumed and admired by a new generation of listeners and musicians.

In the same decade, Tom Zé recorded two successful albums – The Hips of Tradition (1991) and Defeito de Fabricação (Fabrication Defect, 1998), which generated a CD of remixed versions made by the elite of the international pop, with names like Sean Lennon, Stereo Lab and Tortoise. In 1999, Tortoise accompanied Tom Zé on his American tour. Among other works, in 1997 Tom and Zé Miguel Wisnik wrote and recorded Parabelo, the music for a ballet performed by the renown dance group Corpo. In the year 2000, Rolling Stone magazine ranked The Best of Tom Zé among the top CDs of the decade. ©Ricardo Pessanha.

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Liner Notes
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Album Notes
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Joao Voz E Violao
Tom Zé: Jogos De Armar





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