"The grande dame of Amazonian song" SONGLINES MAGAZINE
"Remarkable… an engagingly commanding and feisty singer" THE GUARDIAN
"One of the best releases of 2014" CERYS MATTHEWS, BBC6 MUSIC
With her joyous stage persona and intoxicating blend of Amazonian, Afro-Brazilian and Caribbean rhythms, Dona Onete is one of ‘world music’s most entertaining recent success stories. Described by her manager as ‘Grace Jones trapped in the body of Cesaria Evora’, Onete’s songs talk about the delights of seducing men, herbs that make your body ‘shake’ and her encounters with legends of the Amazon.
She recorded Feitiço Caboclo aged 73, and an international release from Mais Um Discos in 2014 saw critics fall immediately for this sassy, saucy and sexy septuagenarian - influential French magazine Les Inrocks made the album one of their top 5 ‘world’ releases that year and rapturously received festival performances at Womad UK, Paris’s Cabaret Sauvage, Portugal’s FMM Sines followed in 2015.
Onete was born in Cachoeira do Ararí, nestled in the delta of the Amazon across from Belém. She grew up further down the river in Igarapé Miri, 100km outside of Belém, where she regularly attended local dances of carimbó, siriá and banguê. She claims she only started to sing properly at the age of 11. “I used to spend the whole day on the river banks, washing clothes. One day, I saw a dolphin and thought that I should sing for him. The next day I sang again, and another came, and another, and soon a whole family of dolphins came to listen!”
By the age of fifteen she was singing samba, quadrilhas, boi bumba and other Northeastern genres in the bars of her hometown, yet Onete never considered a career in music. She became a Professor of History and Amazonian Studies in Igaparé Miri and ardently researched the rhythms, dances and traditions of the indigenous and black people of the area. This led her to establish several music and dance groups, which regenerated traditional customs, and which eventually saw her elected as the Municipal Secretary of Culture of Igaparé-Miri. Absorbing all these genres and rhythms, Dona Onete also began to compose, creating the hybrid genre for which she would later become famous, the carimbó chamegado.
Carimbó is an indigenous rhythm and dance from Pará, the state of Belém, influenced by both African and European traditions, and which forms the basis of the more famous lambada and other Caribbean rhythms. However Onete has her own take on the genre - carimbó chamegado: “I took lundum and carimbó, two wonderful genres, and mixed them with the rhythm of the songs from the slaves to created carimbó chamegado. It’s slower and more sensual than carimbó,” she adds, with characteristic flirtatiousness. She composed throughout her career over 300 songs, but it wasn’t until she retired that her musical career took off, and even then it was only by accident.
She and her husband moved to the quiet area of Pedreira in Belém, with the intention of whiling away the rest of their days, singing as she always had done, for her own pleasure. A local band heard her singing though and she claims, “thought I was a young woman, because my songs are pretty cheeky. But when they caught sight of me they were shocked to see a lady of my age!” Her age and spicy sense of humour was undoubtedly all part of the appeal for this band who invited her to sing with them. Believing herself to be past her prime, Dona Onete initially rejected the offer but she agreed eventually and before long she had become something of a cult figure in Belém. “Sometimes, when you think you’ve given all you’ve got, you realise that, in fact, you have a lot more ahead of you,” she stated philosophically.