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Tom Ze: the conscience of Brazil's tropicalismo.

For those whose impressions of contemporary Brazilian music have been shaped by the predictable pastiche of Tom Jobim's willowy bossa novas, Jorge Ben's robust Afro-sambas, and Milton Nascimento's sophisticated balladry, the classical guitar music of Tom Ze is a radical departure. His aural cocktail is made of equal parts urban chaos and rural simplicity, emitting flashes of bittersweet, toxic-grade anti-music and pure Brazilian soul. Tom Ze's sound is as disconcerting as the events that have shaped his life. And even though most of his countrymen find his work inaccessible, Ze plods along, at peace with his self-appointed role as an out-of-tune counterbalance to Brazil's sunny, upbeat mainstream music.

Ze's life began under quite ordinary circumstances. He was born Antonio Jose Santana Martins in the small town of Irara--the kind of rural, impoverished, backwater town depicted in the novels of Jorge Amado. In 1936, long before the arrival of mass media and outside cultural influences, Ze's hometown, despite its shortcomings, proved to be an effective incubator for an inquiring young mind. His father's store was the town's gathering place where information was exchanged and culture was observed, shaped and perpetuated. "I didn't know," Ze explains today, "that when I left home to attend high school in Salvador, I was leaving the university of my father's store to study in a boring, occidental, lineal school."

As Ze's bumpy, academic career progressed, the self-taught guitarist made music the central focus in his life. His extended family in the Bahian capital exposed Ze to works by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Brahms. Later, after entering Salvador's College of Music at the University of Bahia, he learned to play the violin and cello, delving into works by Stravinsky and Bartok.

It was around this time, that Ze began to develop what would become one of several of his stylistic trademarks. He created personalized musical instruments from utilitarian objects such as blenders and typewriters. In later years, he would use these innovative instruments in his compositions with striking effect.

Meanwhile, exposure to the ritualistic African-derived music of Salvador led Ze to see the shortcomings in predictable, redundant musical styles. A group of Ze's fellow student musicians began to see Brazilian culture in the same light. Their collaborations led to one of Brazil's most influential musical movements of the twentieth century: tropicalismo, a blending of rock and other contemporary influences with traditional Bahian styles, outfitted with socially-provocative lyrics. Tropicalismo nudged Brazilian music toward the international rock standard while sparking new interest in out-of-favor regional styles from the northeast region of the @ @
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Title Annotation:classical guitarist and musician
Author:Holston, Mark
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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