Never give up on a dream. These are words of advice that Dona Onete heeded in 2013, when somewhat belatedly, the seventy-five year old ‘grande dame of Amazonian song’ released her debut album Feitiço Caboclo. Three years later, and Dona Onete returns with her sophomore album Banzeiro, which will be released on the ‘12th’ of May 2017 on Mais Um Discos. Banzeiro features further tales of life by the Amazon from Dona Onete who nowadays, is a cult figure in Brazil, and an ambassador for Amazonian culture. However, for Dona Onete nowadays, life is very different to it once was.
Dona Onete was born in Amazonian region of Pará in Northern Brazil, in 1938. Growing up, Dona music started to play an important part in her life:“because everything was forbidden by my parents.” Soon, she was practising singing away from the gaze of her parents: “I was washing clothes by the river and one day I saw a dolphin and sung for him. The next day I sang again, and two dolphins came, then a whole family!” Soon, though, the: “teenage dreamer” was singing in front of a very different audience.
By the time Dona was fifteen, she was singing in local bars. This could’ve been the start of a promising musical career. However, these dreams were destroyed in her early twenties. “I was married at 22 and when I tried to sing at home my husband didn’t like it so I had to stop.” For Dona this looked like the end of her musical career.
While Dona turned her back on her singing career, her love affair with music continued. She began studying music indigenous to the Amazon region. Over the years that followed, Dona spent time researching the rhythms, dances and traditions of the Amazon’s indigenous people. This inspired Dona to start composing her own songs. However, the only problem was that she was still unable to sing at home.
Fortunately, Dona was able to incorporate the songs that she had written into her work as a history teacher. The songs that she had written helped Dona to document the history of the Amazon region to her students. This is a source of pride to the people of the Amazon region. Sadly, that wasn’t always the case. Dona reflects: “nowadays indigenous people can be proud of their heritage but years ago this wasn’t the case.” However, her research couple with her teaching has helped change the attitude of a new generations towards their heritage. This was something to be proud of.
The work that Dona had carried out as a researcher and teacher would later prove useful when changed career in the early eighties. Dona decided left teaching to campaign for workers’ rights. Then when she retired in 1990, Dona became the region’s Municipal Secretary of Culture from 1993-1996. This was a role that she was perfectly suited to. “I helped local musicians and local culture that people didn’t value. I brought my culture to the fore.” While her spell as Municipal Secretary of Culture came to an end in 1996, ten years later, a new chapter in Dona’s career began.
In the early years of the new millennia, Dona’s second husband began to encourage his new wife’s love of music. At last, Dona was doing what she had wanted to do all these years before. Her big break came in 2006, when Dona was singing at a friend’s party and a local band her. They invited Dona to sing with them. Initially, she rejected their invitation, but eventually she was cajoled into singing with the band. This was the start of a new chapter in the sixty-eight year old’s career.
Before long, Dona Onete was a familiar face on the local music scene. Soon, Dona Onete attained celebrity status locally, partly because of her risqué lyrics. The rise and rise of Dona Onete continued with the release of her debut album, Feitiço Caboclo in 2013. By then, seventy-five year old Dona Onete was one of Brazil’s musical success stories. She was touring Brazil, playing in front of crowds that numbered thousands. They were won over by Dona Onete’s inimitable music which she describes as: “traditional carimbo songs are about nature and tradition-I modernised it by singing about love and sex and taking influence from samba and pagode.” This sound began to attract the attention of critics and music lovers far and wide.
Critics across the globe were also won over by Dona Onete and her debut album Feitiço Caboclo. Dona Onete was Brazil’s unlikeliest rising star. In 2015, the seventy-seven year old Dona Onete was booked to appear at the Womad festival, where she appeared on the main stage. A year later, in 2016, Dona Onete embarked upon her first American tour. Reflecting on that tour she says: “sometimes, when you think you’ve given all you’ve got, you realise that, in fact, you have a lot more ahead of you.” That proved to be the case.
As she approaches her seventy-ninth birthday, Dona Onete returns with her sophomore album Banzeiro, which features twelve songs from the ‘grande dame of Amazonian song’. The music on Banzeiro is a unique fusion of Brazilian, African and Carribeean rhythms which feature in joyous and uplifting carimbós that have always been Dona’s trademark. However, these aren’t the tradition carimbo songs about nature and tradition. Instead, they’ve been given a makeover by Dona, who has also been influenced by samba and pagode whilst recording Banzeiro, the long-awaited followup to her debut album Feitiço Caboclo.
Tipiti which opens Banzeiro is a showcase for the talented band that accompany Dona. They play their part in this irresistible and uplifting song that sets the bar high for the remainder of the album. Banzeiro explodes into life with horns, harmonies and percussion powering this feel good song along. Faceira and No Meio do Pitiú can only be described as joyous carimbós that are guaranteed to brighten up even the darkest day.
The inspiration from Cumbia-tinged Quiemoso e Tremoso came from an unlikely source, a type of seasoning Dona invented. This she believes reflects the multicultural mix of people from Pará. She reflects: “Quiemoso is a spice from the Africans that burns the mouth, jambu is a spice from the indigenous that makes the mouth tremble (tremoso), whilst the olive oil is from the Portuguese and holds it together.”
There’s another story behind Lua Jaci. It tells the story of Dona visiting an island to give a concert. Dona remembers: “when I arrived they didn’t have a soundsystem – they were very poor people. All they had was this huge, beautiful moon. Lua Jaci” It’s a quite beautiful, cinematic and poignant song.
Coração Brechó (Heartbreaker) is one of the slower tracks, and features a soul-baring vocal from Dona, who sounds as if she’s lived the lyrics. The tempo rises on No Sabor do Beijo (The Taste of a Kiss), is another joyous sounding song, where Dona and her band give one of their best performances.
Na Linha do Arco-Íris is a show of support to Dona’s fans in her native Brazil who are struggling with their sexuality. She encourages her fans to: “come out of the wardrobe, cross the line of the rainbow and be who you want to be.”
Shimmering guitars and washes of organ set the scene for Dona’s vocal on Proposta Indecente, which features one of Dona’s finest vocals. It’s one of the highlights of Banzeiro.
Quando eu te Conheci (When I Met You) is a song that Dona wasn’t sure if she should record. The problem was the lyrics, which are risqué even by Dona’s standards. Eventually, she decided to record the song and include it on Banzeiro. It’s welcome addition to the album, albeit it will cause controversy in certain quarters in Dona’s native Brazil.
The piano lead Sonhos de Adolescente closes Banzeiro, and finds Dona reflecting on the dreams she had growing up. Her vocal is wistful and tinged with sadness, as if she’s reflecting on what might been. Especially if she was able to continue her musical career when she got married for the first time. For Dona Onete it’s a case of what might have been, on this poignant song.
For anyone with an interest in Latin music, then Dona Onete’s sophomore album Banzeiro, is sure to be of interest to them. Similarly, anyone who likes good music will enjoy Banzeiro which will be released on the ‘12th’ of May 2017 on Mais Um Discos, and is the much-anticipated followup to her debut album Feitiço Caboclo which was released in 2013. Four years later and seventy-nine year old Dona Onete, ‘grande dame of Amazonian song’ returns with what’s the finest album of her career, Banzeiro.
It’s an album where no subjects are off limits. This includes songs about love and sex, hurt and heartbreak and the community that she’s spent her life. The music on Banzeiro is variously joyous, uplifting and irresistible, but also poignant, reflective and tinged with sadness and regrets. Sometimes the music is deeply moving, while other times, the songs on Banzeiro are a call to dance as Dona Onete and her multitalented cut loose, on songs that are guaranteed to get any party started. Banzeiro features the long-awaited, and much-anticipated, return of the ‘grande dame of Amazonian song’, Dona Onete, as she returns with twelve captivating tales of life and love in Brazil by the Amazon river.