Tom Zé: Todos Os Olhos 

Zé's 1973 album, a quirky mixture of rock, Brazilian folk, surrealism and minimalism, is released internationally for the first time


In Brazil in 1964, a military coup initiated a 20-year dictatorship. In music, Tropicália – which emerged as the regime entered its most repressive phase – is associated with the northeast state of Bahia. Proponents include Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Tom Zé, who first performed together in Salvador in 1964.

Zé was born Antônio José Santana Martins in 1936. Like his colleagues, he was influenced by early bossa nova, the samba style developed by João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. In the mid-60s, the Bahian group migrated to Rio then São Paulo. The name Tropicália was coined by visual artist Hélio Oiticica for a 1967 art installation.

Tropicalists identified with rock ’n’ roll but also sought to develop the Brazilian song tradition. They revisited, sometimes ironically, the pre-bossa song tradition, and bolero and mambo, in a kitsch aesthetic. Unlike bossa, Tropicália isn’t defined in terms of style, but by its cannibalising, sampling approach. By 1969 the genre was over, but its influence continues.

Zé’s first, eponymous album appeared in 1972, followed by Todos Os Olhos (1973), one of the most celebrated of Brazilian albums. Its attack on the dictatorship meant excommunication even from Tropicália, and in the 80s he returned to his hometown, working at his nephew’s petrol station. But in 1989, Talking Heads’ David Byrne discovered Zé’s music, visiting Brazil to seek him out, and signing him as the first artist for his Luaka Bop Label.

Todos Os Olhos (all eyes) is now reissued for the first time outside Brazil. All songs are by Zé, and they’re minimalist, experimental, quirky or surreal. The album begins with a short version of Complexo De Epico, and ends with an extended version. Brigitte Bardot begins closest to traditional bossa nova, with guitar, percussion and vocals – I don’t speak Portuguese but suspect the lyrics are surreal. There’s a sudden, crazy explosion before the gentle bossa returns. Cademar features acoustic guitar, organ, percussion and vocals for under a minute; the title track similarly, but longer.

As my worthy constituent Mick Wright comments, “I’m hearing Tom Jobim, João Gilberto, Jaques Brel, Claude Nougaro, Betty Carter and Donald Fagen jamming at the Mark Murphy memorial gig.” In similar vein, Paul Bream comments that “Ze is so hard to categorize … pulling in echoes – often quite tangential, minimalist – from any number of sources, creating something absolutely sui generis.” It adds up to a weird satire on familiar Brazilian song forms – and an historic reissue.

Complexo De Épico; A Noite Do Meu Bem; Cademar; Todos Os Olhos; Dodo E Zeze; Quando Eu Era Sem Ninguem; Brigitte Bardot; Augusta, Angélica E Consolacao; Botaram Tanta Fumaca; O Riso E A Faca; Um “Oh” E Um “Ah!”; Complexo De Épico (36.30)
No personnel or recording information given.
Elemental Music 40011 LP