From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Brazilian musician Tom Ze once said, I don't make art, I make spoken and sung journalism. In the 1960's Ze was a leading voice in what was called the Tropicialian movement. It combined psychedelic rock with samba and social commentary. Tom Ze is now approaching his 70th birthday, and his approach to music hasn't mellowed. His new CD addresses the suppression of women throughout history. From member station WHYY, Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE reporting:

The liner notes describe Estudando o Pagode as an unfinished operetta. The recording opens at a trial. A course of men insists that women are inherently evil.

(Soundbite of music)(Foreign Language Sung)

ROSE: Later on, composer Tom Ze gives the women a chance to defend themselves and turn the tables on their accusers.

TOM ZE (Brazilian Musician): (Through Translator) Estudando o Pagode is basically telling men can you see the damage you're doing to yourselves by treating women so badly for so long? The damage against women has ended up affecting men as well. Women have been dominated either by marriage or by prostitution. Because of that, a woman might think attraction, but she's not going to reveal the sacred secret of deep intimacy.

ROSE: The operetta is both serious and playful. The cast of characters includes Don Quixote, a braying donkey, and a woman at the height of sexual pleasure. In one scene the members of The Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade visit the Vatican. But a number of other scenes involve dialogues between men and women about the nature of love and power.

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ROSE: He thinks it's ridiculous to cry. She replies that crying is a part of love. Before composer Tom Ze got started on his operetta he told his wife of 35 years, Neusa Martins, what it was about.

NEUSA MARTINS (Wife of Tom Ze): (Through Translator) It was scary because he would be dealing with issues that are difficult for man to deal with. They always have a lot of problems dealing with the issue of women.

ROSE: Neusa Martins says her husband played her sketches of the songs before they were finished. They sometimes finish each other sentences even in a recorded interview. Ze says his wife did much of the reading for the project including books by Mary Wollstonecraft, Betty Friedan and Simone De Beauvoir. Ze says he wanted to get in as many points of view as he could.

Mr. ZE (Through translator): Nobody has the truth. Even if you think you're being just and correct, it is necessary to hear a lot of different opinions. For this reason, the record has a lot of characters who defend different positions.

ROSE: Tom Ze first made a name for himself at a time when Brazilian pop musicians were combining ideas and sounds from all over the world.

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ROSE: It was called Topicalia and it made international stars out of Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil whose now the country's minister of culture. These younger musicians convinced Tom Ze to move from his home in the north to the cultural capital of Sal Palo to make records.

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ROSE: Most Tropicalia musicians revered Bossa Nova. Tulane University professor Christopher Dunn, he says Tom Ze was different.

Professor CHRISTOPHER DUNN (Tulane University): At the same time he's someone who has a great connection, more than the other tropicalalists to the tradition of the musical avant-garde of the 20th century, which he studied at the University of Baia in the early 1960's.

ROSE: There they studied cello and composition, but he admits he never mastered Bossa Nova.

Mr. ZE: (Through Translator) I discovered at a young age that I was a horrible composer, horrible instrumentalist and horrible singer. For this reason I began making music that wasn't Tropicalist or anything else. It was merely something strange that barely fit into the universe of popular music.

ROSE: In the 1970's Ze forged his own combination of rock music, street samba and concrete poetry.

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ROSE: Some critics praise the days' records, but they weren't selling. By the 1980's Ze had stopped recording and almost quit music all together.

Mr. ZE: (Through translator) My cousin had a gas station and we arranged to manage that station for him. In 1989, the year I was planning to take over the gas station, was precisely when David Byrne told one of the local newspapers that he was looking for me.

ROSE: The former singer of Talking Heads was in Brazil to promote a film when he stopped into a record store In Rio De Janeiro.

Mr. DAVID Byrne (Musician): His record had the word samba on the cover, but it also had a picture of barbed wire, which made it stand out from all the other samba records which either had pictures of the singers or beautiful women on the cover. So I thought this one seems like it has something slightly different to say than the others.

ROSE: That was Ze's 1976 album, Estudando o Samba.

(Soundbite of music)

ROSE: The title of Tom Ze's new album is a play on this old one. Estudando o Samba means studying samba. Estudando o Pagode means studying Pagode, a style of dance music that Ze says is popular in Brazil. In his operetta Ze combines Pagode with Bach and Jobim.

(Soundbite of music) (Foreign Language Sung)

ROSE: Tom Ze's music is easy, says David Byrne. But it's always grounded in real life.

Mr. BYRNE: You know, that's what I miss about a lot of kind of experimental music in the North America or in Europe. A lot of it loses all context. It's assumed that in order to be that kind of thing, like a lot of modern art, it has to be stripped of all political comment, references to contemporary life, et cetera, et cetera. Whereas Tom, I think, feels that it's, all that stuff can get thrown together.

ROSE: Ze has no plans to actually stage his operetta. Although he's still performing at age 69, he does hope the record will provoke discussion in Brazil and maybe abroad as well.

Mr. Ze: (Through Translator) If, in the U.S., women are treated with respect, accepted in the workplace. If everything has been completely resolved there, then they might consider this album to be merely news from a barbaric world.

(Soundbite of music)

ROSE: It's the kind of reporting few other journalists would be able to deliver. For NPR News I'm Joel Rose.

(Soundbite of music) (Foreign Language Sung)

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