Dona Onete is a case study on how to live well. Pushing 80, she’s spent her life working in education and union organizing. In her mid-70s, she decided to make a career change, releasing her first album, Feitiço Caboclo, in 2012. Banzeiro is the singer-songwriter’s new release, a sharp shot of sunshine packed with intense feeling, a high concentration of optimism, and a distinctly progressive point of view.
While this may only be her second album, Dona Onete has been singing since she was a child. It shows, not only in her obvious musical skill and vocal range but also in her knack for innovation; her musical style, known as carimbó chamegado, is one she’s created herself, drawing on traditional Brazilian rhythms and her unique fire. She kicks off the album at full speed with “Tipiti”, a brassy party piece that sets the fun-filled tone for the rest of the album. Horns are one of the strongest driving forces over the course of the album, second only to Dona Onete’s delivery, and on “Tipiti”, they are quick and nimble. Elsewhere, as on “Faeiura”, they add powerful accents instead.
Later on, the horns all but vanish as other instruments have their day in the sun. Fiercely romantic bolero “Quando eu te Conheci” has one of the more ambitious arrangements, with sweeping strings laying a thick foundation for an impassioned acoustic guitar solo. Slow and steady keys build up the titular dreams on “Sonhos de Adolescente” as Dona Onete conjures up a wave of nostalgia for the hopeful days of youth.
With “Na Linha do Arco-ĺris”, Dona Onete displays no fear of taking a position on social issues; the song speaks directly to the LGBT community. Onete and a backing chorus chant “Aceita, aceita, aceita” (Accept, accept, accept) and “Continuamos na luta!” (We continue in the fight!) as she bluntly decries discrimination as burra — just plain stupid. Less directly, she teaches a lesson to young women in love with “No Sabor do Beijo”, which draws a line between love and lust, and makes reference to the need to take caution against abuse. In both cases and throughout Banzeiro, Dona Onete prioritizes humanity.
The septuagenarian’s less platonic love songs are enough to make a more bashful person of any age blush; her folkloric pieces and tributes to her home paint vivid pictures. Dona Onete never wastes time with subtleties in either writing or execution, and even softer songs don’t see her holding back. It works in her favor, her boldness making her even more likable. She sings with frankness, with an understanding of the world that is deep, but never jaded. She’s a true diva in the sense that she commands attention, and that charisma overrides any missed notes or moments where the strength of her voice and the delicacy of the instrumentation aren’t quite in balance. There’s plenty to love about Dona Onete — her earthiness, her genuine emotion — and it all comes through in her infectious music.