Composer-singer Zezé Di Camargo has become the newest
millionaire in Brazilian music and in a very short time. Together with
Luciano he performs a new breed of country music using keyboards and technology.
He has adopted a pop-romantic style and has been able to reach a younger
and more urban audience. But life has been hard while he juggles writing,
touring, and recording.
People interested in knowing which Brazilian composers receive the greatest
royalties for their compositions customarily refer to Roberto Carlos, Tom
(Antônio Carlos) Jobim, and Caetano Veloso as the “Tręs Grandes”
Three Great Ones. At the Escritório Central de Arrecadaçăo de Direitos
(ECAD), the entity in charge of distributing payment to artists, these
composer/musicians continually rotate the number one position, but they
never move out of the top ten. Their compositions are the ones most often
heard on Brazilian radio and TV, in bars, and in the live performances
of myriad artists. Six years ago, a fourth name was added: Zezé Di Camargo.
Mirosmar José de Camargo is a young man from Goiás. Brazilians who know
Zezé Di Camargo know him from his work as a singer in the duo Zezé Di Camargo
& Luciano. Few know that prior to forming that duo, Zezé had written
several hits for sertaneja super stars Leandro and Leonardo, his
friends since childhood, or that his name is the fourth great of ECAD.
Moreover, who would guess that he surpasses his rivals Roberto, Jobim,
and Caetano every time he releases a new disc?
This happened in 1993 with the third release by Zezé Di Camargo &
Luciano. At that time the composer jumped from ECAD’s sixth to the first
position due to the success of the tune “Saudade Bandida” (Desperate
Longing). Reaching the first position on ECAD’s list once or twice in an
artist’s life is quite an accomplishment. However, even transitory artists
like lambada star Beto Barbosa have been in first place a fair number
of times. Remaining among the top ten for several years is arduous. For
that, it is necessary to have scores of hits at numerous times performed
by various artists.
The success of Zezé Di Camargo is impressive in view of its rapidity.
Zezé is the youngest of ECAD’s Great Ones but gained success quickly for
two reasons. First, he started at a time when there was an enormous interest
in sertaneja (country music), supplying music for successful singers
like Leandro & Leonardo; and next, he invested in pagode, a
type of samba made popular in Rio’s Zona Norte. Zezé’s pagode music
has been recorded by Raça Negra, one of the top groups of the genre.
Zezé has dividends coming from more than 130 compositions recorded not
only by the duo with brother Luciano, but also from a slew of other artists.
Among the hits written by Zezé and recorded by other sertaneja duos
are “Foge de Mim” (Escape From Me) by Chităozinho & Xororó
and “Gostoso Sentimento” (Good Feeling) by Leandro & Leonardo.
Last year alone he profited over $350,000 net in royalties according to
the calculations of Manoel Pinto, general director of Peermusic, the firm
that collects the royalties for Zezé.
To achieve his extensive repertoire of both romantic and sentimental
songs, Zezé has adopted an intimate ritual. He composes only during the
early hours of morning, sitting always at the center of his spacious living
room in his secluded Săo Paulo condominium, accompanied by his tape recorder,
a six-string guitar, and a note pad. His source of inspiration continues
to be man’s illusion of love, its unfolding treachery, frustration, and
madness. Zezé knows that the public will listen to words they can relate
to, and he makes music for people to enjoy.
In addition to Zezé’s income as a composer, his sertanejo duo
with brother Luciano, Zezé Di Camargo & Luciano, sells more than one
million copies every time they release a disc. According to Luiz André
Calainho, director of marketing for Sony Music, the duo’s label, the first
four albums sold 5.2 million copies. The recent disc containing the hit
“Păo de Mel” sold 1.2 million copies in one month. But the enormous
sum of money accumulated by the duo is only partially explained by the
astronomical quantity of recordings they sell. They perform almost two
hundred shows a year.
In fact, the strongest source of the duo’s income is not the collection
of royalties from Zezé’s compositions, not the sales from recordings (The
duo’s agreement with Sony gives them 12% of the retail price for each unit
sold.), but from their performances all over the country. They receive
close to $40,000 per show (about $33,000 net). After 150 shows the brothers
earn approximately $5 million.
At recent shows in Bauru (Săo Paulo) and Muriaé (Minas Gerais), Zezé
& Luciano performed outdoors in a rain that failed to deter an unbelievable
crowd. In Săo Paulo 25,000 people attended, in Minas more than 10,000.
All of their performances are attended by battalions of hysterical female
fans; everyone sings, raises their arms, screams desperately for one wave
or a look from one of the brothers. In little more than a one hour show,
female fans have thrown wrist watches, stuffed animals, panties among other
alluring articles, photos, and letters that run the gamut from the naďve
to the erotic on stage . One card written by a beautiful girl and left
with the receptionist at their hotel in Bauru read, “Luciano, I want
your wild love. I am sure that only you can give me pleasure.” They
receive many such letters; however, both brothers are happily married.
And although they are very cordial with the fans, they do not become involved
with them. Luciano, in fact, has been married only a short time, and contrary
to his brother, is adverse to the social obligations of recording stars.
He goes to few parties and is content living in Moóca, a neighborhood of
Săo Paulo, with his wife Mariana (sister of Leandro & Leonardo).
At a festa junina in the city of Diamantina, Minas Gerais, Zezé
& Luciano were scheduled to perform in a soccer field. Rain had converted
the field into a muddy bog. Not only did the sky conspire against the sertanejo
duo, but there was only one electrical generator available. This generator
was unable to power and sustain the 160 thousand watt stage lighting, the
spot lights, and the sound system that was brought by the band. At best
it was able to provide only very dim lighting. Despite the problems, minutes
after midnight the two stepped onto a semi-dark stage, started their show,
and were drowned in an applause uncommon for people drenched by the rain.
Transforming a situation that in the hands of lesser artists would have
been a tragedy, the duo sang their hits for two hours and were applauded
Episodes like Diamantina bring to mind the frustration and disappointment
that rocker Rita Lee caused her fans when she refused to perform during
a big storm last year and also reveal the duo’s determination to follow
through unequivocally with their objective of becoming the best. With almost
200 performances anticipated this year and 15,000 miles traveled a month,
the brothers are committed to promoting their latest self-titled disc which
arrived in the stores with pre-sales of one million copies. Roberto Augusto,
president of Sony, the duo’s recording company said, “We have bet
that Zezé’s power to create success will break Xuxa’s 3.2 million mark.”
Zezé has been very excited about the sold-out shows and actually prefers
live shows to being confined in the studio. Plus the brothers realize that
continuing in this manner allows them to compete in the market place side
by side with the two best selling sertaneja groups Chităozinho &
Xororó and Leandro & Leonardo.
The trajectory for Zezé Di Camargo & Luciano was launched five years
ago when they came to the fore performing a type of sertaneja “upgraded”
by keyboards and technology, very different from the music of Tonico &
Tinoco or Pena Branca & Xavantinho (see News From Brazil December
’95). Zezé realized that the “upgrade” was going to be a target
for criticism, but is cognizant that he is in reality performing MPB (Brazilian
The objective of abandoning a style saturated with characteristics typical
of sertaneja and adopting more of a pop-romantic style was to reach
a younger and more urban audience. They wanted those who listen to Skank
(the reggae band from Minas Gerais) to also be listening to Zezé Di Camargo
& Luciano. In the battle to conquer and hold new audiences the brothers
concur that they have to maintain their disciplined and sacrificing routine,
one that is only surpassed by Elba Ramalho and her always sold out agenda
Behind the scenes of their perpetual tours are more than 30 people:
eight band members, three back-up vocalists, a conductor, the technical
crew, a secretary, an agent, the contractor, and a security staff. For
tours within 500 miles, the troupe travels in a Marcopolo Geraçăo 5 bus
complete with sleeping facilities. The bus is the most comfortable in the
country and the type coveted by stars like Xuxa, and Chităozinho &
Xororó among others. In 1995 the band bus traveled a distance equal to
driving four and a half times around the world. For greater distances,
travel is by commercial plane.
With all their money, the two don’t have an easy life. The road has
taken its toll. Besides the obligatory tight pants country performers are
expected to wear, their extremely Spartan agenda has cost Zezé an inflamed
vocal chord. And stress from being on the road constantly affects his ability
to reach the higher notes. The uninterrupted schedule causes Luciano to
gain weight and suffer from insomnia.
The sacrifices, however, are not only theirs. People who are directly
associated with the shows have said that they find it hard to appreciate
the bosses singing when they hear the same songs night after night. Their
security guards amuse themselves by trading the duo’s tapes for tapes of
rock and soul musicians. Zezé and Luciano are reluctant to admit it, but
even they have found it challenging to continue rehearsing and performing
the same repertoire enthusiastically.
On the road, Zezé watches the news compulsively and reads more than
one newspaper and magazine on a plane. He continually comments on the economy,
on politics, and on social problems and cannot imagine himself singing
heart throbbing country music ten years from now. His political and societal
concerns are intensifying, and Zezé has started bringing these concerns
into his lyrics. Zezé regards this almost as a duty, a debt to Brazil.
Misery and poverty, for example, are the themes of “Bandido com Razăo”
(Justified Bandit), a dramatic moment in their shows when images of abandoned
children and children sniffing glue in the streets of Săo Paulo are shown
on a big screen. Any time Zezé sees a child in the streets, he gives them
whatever money he has in his pockets.
One of Zezé’s last political missions was performing at election rallies
for the governor of Minas Gerais, 36 presentations in two months side by
side with the candidate Eduardo Azeredo. Zezé Di Camargo & Luciano
were also used as a weapon by the ex-mayor of Belo Horizonte in an effort
to become well known in the interior. The candidate started with a 35%
point disadvantage in the surveys but finished the race by winning with
more than a 10% advantage. The overturn was attributed in great part to
the shows performed at the political rallies by the duo.
Zezé & Luciano attracted almost 70 thousand people to the event.
Hélio Costa, the candidate who felt the election slipping away from him,
reacted by hiring both Chităozinho & Xororó and Leandro and Leonardo.
The election turned out to be more of a victory for country singers in
tight pants than for the politicians. What politicians want from the two
is easy to understand; nevertheless, Zezé is happy that he is in a position
to aid only the politicians that he supports.
When Zezé is able to relax, he travels to his huge ranch, É o Amor,
in the Aruană region of Goiás where he raises cattle and thoroughbred horses.
The ranch was named after the tune “É o Amor” (It’s Love) that
propelled their first album and which is still the composition written
by Zezé that is most often recorded by other artists including Ray Conniff
and the Mexican group La Mafia. It is at É o Amor that Zezé jet skis on
the artificial lake he had constructed and plays soccer in the well-equipped
mini-soccer stadium named Franciscăo after Zezé’s father who hates the
Without the responsibilities of a poet, Luciano dedicates his leisure
time to activities less introspective or philanthropic. He collects and
races remote control cars and drives his own recklessly, creating a constant
source of dispute between the brothers. He has always been a rebel. At
23 years old, ten years younger than his brother, Luciano lives in the
shadow of Zezé. When Luciano joined Zezé in 1991, he became one of the
rare Brazilian artists who surpassed the one million mark for sales with
his first recording. Consequently, he has lived a very easy life since
the end of his adolescence, but realizes that Zezé had to struggle for
over twenty years and has opened the doors for him.
Juggling writing, touring, and recording has made Zezé Di Camargo the
newest millionaire in Brazilian music. His residuals after deductions and
only as a composer exceed $250,000 annually according to Peermusic of Brazil’s
Manoel Pinto. That figure corresponds to approximately 1% of all money
that is collected for music royalties in Brazil. ECAD does not supply the
royalty figures that it collects, but admits that Roberto Carlos, Zezé
Di Camargo, and Tom Jobim are more or less on the same level with Caetano
Veloso a little lower on the list.
Jobim once stated that he wasn’t sure whether or not he was receiving
$250,000 a year in residuals. He thought that some composers could be earning
that much, but that if they were Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso would
not have to continue performing live shows. Apparently, the composer from
the backlands of Goiás does not share this opinion.
Gauging the hits
The system used by ECAD to calculate and confirm what music is played
in Brazil is called “public diffusion.” It attempts to gauge
not only what is listened to on the radio and TV, but also in bars, small
clubs, hotels, night clubs, and restaurants. In order to make these tabulations
there are several offices with autonomous agents spread throughout Brazil’s
capitals. The agents get a commission for the information they collect.
According to the ECAD office in Rio de Janeiro, there are more than 1100
agents working for the system of royalties between the northernmost and
southernmost points of Brazil. This is not a lot of agents when you consider
the number of establishments that have to be checked.
In Săo Paulo alone, there are 45 top-of-the-line bars and restaurants
that are known for presenting live music. The numbers collected by ECAD
must be absurdly below the reality. To account for establishments that
provide ambient background music for people who are waiting or sitting
in a bar would be impossible. Thus, the information that “La Barca”
was played 159 times a month cannot be taken as a rigid verification, not
even as a close approximation. The figure shows only what ECAD agents accounted
ECAD’s service could be improved a lot, and musicians do complain periodically
about their residuals. However, it is an illusion to imagine that one day
it will be possible to document all music being played everywhere in Brazil
at all times. A feat like that would necessitate an ECAD representative
being permanently on duty from Sunday to Sunday in every bar and club in
the country. Nevertheless, the service that ECAD provides is crucial data
for the musicians who depend on these services to earn their money.
One play on FM radio pays the composer about 15 cents. For TV there
is no fixed price for music, but there are direct agreements between the
broadcasting stations and ECAD. Globo, which has a near monopoly of audience,
and SBT, the TV station owned by Sílvio Santos, are together paying $550,000
monthly to ECAD. With records and CDs the criteria varies. A singer may
receive 5% to 15% over the album price. The composer has the right to 8.4%
over the album price divided by the other composers who contributed compositions
to the recording. To earn more, a majority of composers have preferred
to sing their own compositions; Jobim was a case in point. For night clubs,
the price paid to ECAD varies according to how many people attend the particular
club on a nightly basis. Large clubs pay large sums; a small bar many times
is not even called upon to enter their share.
Even though there are so few ECAD agents, wherever they go they inevitably
hear the music of Roberto Carlos, Jobim, Caetano Veloso, or Zezé Di Camargo
being played. In December 1992, for instance, it was discovered that the
music played live most often in bars and restaurants was “La Barca”,
a classic bolero that came back to the charts with 159 plays a month due
to the recording made by Mexican artist Luis Miguel. Next came “Coraçăo
Está em Pedaços” (Heart in Pieces) by Zezé Di Camargo. The eighth
through tenth positions were taken by scientist-sambista Paulo Vanzolini’s
“Ronda”, “As Rosas Năo Falam” (Roses Don’t Talk) by
the great Cartola, and Jobim’s “Garota de Ipanema” (The Girl
from Ipanema) all standards of Brazilian popular music.
Tom Jobim started his career in the 1950s and still maintains a posthumous
position in the race because of his monumental production of great music
which includes songs that will never be replaced in any musician’s repertoire.
It is primarily from this accomplishment that Jobim extracted the largest
portion of his royalties.
Roberto Carlos, called the king by his fans, started his career at the
beginning of the 1960s. He releases a record every year and always sells
over one million copies. His songs are played on the radio more frequently
than any other Brazilian artist. Besides, other singers have the habit
of recording his hits (see News from Brazil cover story on January
Caetano got started at the end of 1960s. Besides composing his own music,
Caetano is the artist whose name stands out most in the discography of
singers like Maria Bethânia and Gal Costa. The Baiano singer-composer
may not be able to beat Jobim or Roberto, but his name occupies a considerable
space on the list of composers whose songs are played most often on both
the radio and in night clubs. “Sampa” (affectionate name for
Săo Paulo), for example, continues to be an absolute hit in the bars of
Bruce Gilman plays cuíca for Mocidade Independente Los Angeles,
received his MA from California Institute of the Arts, and teaches English
and ESL in Long Beach, California.