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'Queen of the Amazon' conquers the world

At the age of 78, Brazilian singer and songwriter Dona Onete is ruling the « world music » charts
At the age of 78, Brazilian singer and songwriter Dona Onete is ruling the « world music » charts Augusto Pinheiro

At 78, Dona Onete is on the cover of the British magazine Songlines, one of the main publications about world music of the planet, and tops their chart. The Brazilian singer and songwriter, from the city of Belém, is known as “the queen of the Amazon” by the magazine. She played on Friday 14 July in London, at the Nell's Jazz & Blues Club, as part of her European tour that has already taken in France and Germany.


Dona Onete plays her own interpretation of the carimbó, traditional rhythm from the state of Pará, in northern Brazil, adding electric guitar and bass to the typical indigenous drums. But she also writes sexy lyrics with tongue-in-cheek, and sometimes touching, verses about love and romance.

"My heart became a big thrift store/Where I kept my fantasies/Romances, passion, happiness, sadness, longing, joy/But I will empty my heart/And paint it the green of hope/I’m waiting for another love to come", sings in “Coração Brechó” (thrift store heart), that opens her current stage show.

The track is part of her second album Banzeiro, which was released last year and gained attention from the international press and from artists such as Brazilian living legend Caetano Veloso and American David Byrne, the ex-leader of the group Talking Heads, who both met Dona Onete backstage after her concert in New York in 2016.

"David said that he loved my band and that the huskiness in my voice reminded him of jazz singers, and Caetano told me that he really likes my voice and my songs", said Dona Onete in an interview to RFI in Paris.

From the Amazon to the world

Dona Onete, artistic name of Ionete da Silveira Gama, was born in Cachoeira do Arari, on the Marajó island in 1938. She spent her childhood in Belém and then moved to Igarapé-Miri, known as the “world capital of açaí” (a typical Amazon fruit which has become popular all over the planet).

She released her first CD, Feitiço Caboclo, only five years ago, when her original sound and charisma caught the attention of producers in a concert in São Paulo. Since then she has not stopped touring in Brazil and many countries, such as the USA, United Kingdom, Argentina, Portugal, Germany and France.

Her passion for music started in her childhood, imitating famous Brazilian radio singers, such as Angêla Maria, Emilinha e Cauby Peixoto.

"People used to say I had a beautiful voice, that I should be a singer. When I got married, I started to write songs. But my husband didn’t let me show my songs or sing. After 25 years of marriage, I decided to divorce, I wanted to live a different life than just being a housewife, I had already brought up my children", she recalls.

Her songs were then recorded by different artists and she started to take part in different musical projects as a singer, until the release of her first album.

Asked about the rave reviews, she says, matter-of-fact: “I keep my feet on the ground, enjoying the moment. I think I haven’t yet understood what’s happening and I don’t want to”.

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