Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Tulane Professor Christopher Dunn Sets Background for Acclaimed Brazilian Musician Tom Zé's Latest Album Release

October 25th, 2010

By: Shearon Roberts

Photo: Tom Zé

Legendary inventive Brazilian artist Tom Zé has got the music review world talking about his recently released vinyl record box set showcasing Zé‘s three decades of music. The record label that first signed Zé twenty years ago, David Byrne’s Luaka Bop, recently released the limited edition “Studies of Tom Zé.” It includes three albums, a live recording of Tom Zé and the Chicago-based group Tortoise, interviews with Zé and Byrne, and a special vinyl-sized 12-page liner notes booklet to the albums that captures the essence of the artist. Those liner notes were written by Tulane Associate Professor Christopher Dunn.

During October, media coverage hailed the one-of-a-kind keepsake, from Newsweek, to NPR’s “Weekend All Things Considered,” to PRI’s “The World.” The compilation will be reviewed my dozens more music sites next month and it will also be featured in the holiday gift guide of The New York Times in December. It was a natural project that found Dunn, who has written extensively on Zé, and the Brazilian Tropicália counterculture movement prominent in the late 1960s, of which Zé was a key figure.

“I’ve known Tom Zé for almost twenty years,” said Dunn. “I was one of those people who were deeply inspired by “The Best of Tom Zé” compilation produced by Luaka Bop.”

In the past 10 years, Dunn worked directly with Zé to research his 2001 book on the Tropicália movement, and on subsequent essays. The relationship developed where Dunn was asked to translate Zé‘s song lyrics in the past. For “Studies of Tom Zé,” Luaka Bop executive producer Yale Evelev, called on Dunn to write the liner notes.

The three-album compilation on vinyl is a significant release by label Luaka Bop, which revived Zé‘s career, re-launching him to an international audience, Dunn said. Zé‘s music was popular mostly in Brazil in the late 60s as he infused Brazilian pop music with stylistic elements of the U.S. and British pop/rock scene at the time. Over the next 20 years, the artist surpassed his initial creations, becoming more experimental, leading to a Rolling Stone magazine dubbing him the “Father of Invention.”

“At 75, when most artists of his generation are either retired or resting on their laurels, Tom Zé continues to come up with new, often startlingly fresh ideas,” Dunn said.

His initial musical innovations left him marginalized in the 70s and 80s, Dunn points out, but the 1990 release of “The Best of Tom Zé” revitalized his original musical creations in the 70s, of which tracks from his 1973 album “Todos os Olhos” and 1975’s “Estudando o Samba” are included on the first album of the 2010 box set. The other two albums on the box set contain Zé‘s more recent work. “Estudando o Pagode,” (2005) and “Estudando a Bossa,” (2008) the other two albums on the box set, are Zé‘s interpretations on “pagode,” a form of popular samba, and on bossa nova, a musical movement in the 1950s in Brazil. Zé‘s inventive musical qualities are evident in “Estudando o Pagode,” for instance, Dunn said, where he sets the “pagode” “to a kind of samba opera about the emotionally fraught history of male-female relations.”

In Dunn’s liner notes, he articulates Zé‘s performance style of a mixture of pop music show conventions, and “free-wheeling improvisation with frequent interruptions, impromptu monologues, the occasional diatribe, and audience sing-alongs.”

At a Tom Zé show, Dunn writes in the liner notes, one is taken through an experience that “is part musical performance, part stand-up comedy, and part lecture on a range of topics from the history of counterpoint to the pitfalls of globalization.” He calls his music “imprensa cantada, or sung journalism,” the title of a recent recording, Dunn wrote.

More of Christopher Dunn’s liner notes for the limited edition “Studies of Tom Zé,” can be found at http://luakabop.com/tom_ze/box_set/