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  • Writer's pictureLucas Lima

Zé Keti, one of the main composers of Brazilian music

Singer and songwriter responsible for songs like "A Voz do Morro" and "Diz Que Fui Por Aí"

Zé Keti em foto de Marco Aurélio Olímpio.
Zé Keti in photo of Marco Aurélio Olímpio.

If you're Brazilian, you've undoubtedly heard, even unintentionally, a song by Zé Keti. The singer and songwriter, recorded by various names in our music, such as Zeca Pagodinho, who elevated the success of the classic "A Voz do Morro." He was an extremely important figure and considered a reference for the creation of Bossa Nova, as well as a standout in countless samba circles and various carnivals.

But what is the story of Zé Keti, one of the great masters of samba?

Who was Zé Keti?

Zé Keti was a highly successful singer and composer, especially in the realm of samba. He was a true music enthusiast and began his journey at the age of 13 when he started attending rehearsals of the Estação Primeira de Mangueira samba school.

In the late 1930s, he began writing his first carnival marchinhas (a style of Brazilian festive music), balancing his time between the art of writing and the necessity of working in factories, printing shops, and even as a military policeman.

In the 1950s, the tables turned: Zé Keti wrote his greatest hit, "A Voz do Morro," which was recorded by Jorge Goulart with arrangements by Radamés Gnattali. The song was the theme of the film "Rio 40 Graus" and has since been re-recorded several times by various artists, including César Guerra-Peixe, Elis Regina, Demônios da Garoa, and Zeca Pagodinho.

Within samba circles, he was highly respected. He collected hits in his own voice and continued to be re-recorded by other singers. Thus, Zé Keti became a reference when it comes to samba. During the time of "A Voz do Morro," he was an important figure for the creators of Bossa Nova, who saw his songs as great inspirations for the new style that was emerging, considering that Bossa Nova was based on Jazz and Samba.

Family influence

The love for music came early for Zé Keti and was not uncommon in his family. His father, the sailor Josué Vale de Jesus, played the cavaquinho, and his grandfather, João Dionísio de Santana, was a flutist and pianist.

In his home, chorinho gatherings were frequent, often with the presence of important musicians like Pixinguinha and Cândido Das Neves. The environment and influences were essential for Zé Keti's career formation.

Zé Keti's greatest hits

Zé Keti collected hits and continues to be re-recorded today. In addition to "A Voz do Morro," the composer has a rich crop of songs listed among the most popular in the national songbook.

Diz Que Fui Por Aí

A track composed in partnership with Hortêncio Rocha, "Diz Que Fui Por Aí" was created for the "Opinião" show, which made history by confronting the Military Dictatorship, bringing songs that exposed social issues of the time. The cast of the show included Nara Leão, João do Vale, and Zé Keti himself.

Máscara Negra

The marchinha "Máscara Negra" was one of the most listened to during the 1967 Carnival and later became a classic when recorded on a record. Although it was a huge success, it was also a significant controversy. At the time, Zé Keti was accused of stealing the lyrics from Deusdedith Pereira Mattos, brother of Hidelbrando Pereira Mattos, who co-authored "Máscara Negra" with Keti. Although the argument lasted for years, it was never proven that Zé had any negative involvement.

Acender As Velas

One of Zé Keti's strongest socially themed songs, "Acender As Velas" denounces the poverty situation of the population living in the peripheries. Besides being recorded by the composer himself, the song is another one that was interpreted by Nara Leão on the "Opinião" album from 1964. The verses "Because on the hill / There's no car to climb / No phone to call / And there's no beauty to see / And we die without wanting to die" well represent the symbolism of the track.


Of course, the list of successes couldn't be complete without "Opinião." The track that gave the title to one of the most revered theatrical shows in Brazil's history is one of the greatest symbols of resistance, with strong lyrics and a historic performance by Nara Leão. It is one of those songs that must be listened to at some point in life and is a case study for universities and research.

Art that is still revered

Zé Keti passed away in 1999 at the age of 78, but he continues to live through the many songs that have made and continue to make history in Brazilian popular music. Proof of this is Zeca Pagodinho's beautiful rendition of "A Voz do Morro" in the show "De Santo Amaro a Xerém," a performance that brings together Zeca and Maria Bethânia, a singer who was part of Zé Keti's "Opinião" show.

Another example is Fernanda Takai's version of "Diz Que Fui Por Aí," performed live in the "Luz Negra" show. These two shows are available on WePlay.



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