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Music Review: 'Banzeiro,' Dona Onete

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Singer Dona Onete just celebrated her 78th birthday in June. It was only five years ago that she released her debut album and has been touring the world, singing her feisty Amazonian songs. The lyrics are inspired by her life. Michelle Mercer says her sophomore album is an accomplished work of songwriting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FACEIRA")

DONA ONETE: (Singing in Portuguese).

MICHELLE MERCER, BYLINE: Dona Onete says her musical life began with singing to the Amazon's pink dolphins when she was a girl washing clothes in the river. And her story only becomes more incredible from there. When Onete's first husband demanded that she stop singing, she studied folklore instead, becoming a professor of history and culture. After Onete was retired, she returned to music, releasing her first album at age 73.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FACEIRA")

ONETE: (Singing in Portuguese).

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Portuguese).

ONETE: (Singing in Portuguese).

MERCER: The Amazonian folk style called Carimbo typically addresses themes of nature and tradition. Onete creates her own style called carimbo chamegado, singing about love and sex and agitating it with samba and pagode. I adore your crazy way of making love, she'll sing. Or here on "No Sabor Do Beijo," she describes the flavor of kisses - hot, frozen, sweet, salty, with horns driving her themes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO SABOR DO BEIJO")

ONETE: (Singing in Portuguese).

MERCER: The name of the album "Banzeiro" refers to the wave that a passing boat makes in the water. And Onete wants you to feel how those currents move the body. But sensuality is only part of her larger attention to the physical world. On one song, she wants us to notice the fishy smelling water left behind when the ice melts at a riverside market. And here on the bolero "Coracao Brecho," Onete dramatizes the trappings of a sensualist life, depicting her heart as a second-hand store full of happy and sad memories.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CORACAO BRECHO")

ONETE: (Singing in Portuguese).

MERCER: Dona Onete is the latest world music darling, embraced like some exotic fruit newly discovered in the Amazon. But beyond her colorful biography and brazen sexiness, Onete is a songwriter fully alive to her world. And she has the skill to make us feel it as deeply as she does.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO MEIO DO PITIU")

ONETE: (Singing in Portuguese).

CORNISH: Michelle Mercer reviewed Dona Onete's latest album, "Banzeiro."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO MEIO DO PITIU")

ONETE: (Singing in Portuguese). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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