Dona Onete ‘Rebujo’ LP/CD (Mais Um) 5/5

Rebujo is the turbulence that the river’s currents create as they pass through. The rebujo churns up the silt and debris, giving the Amazon its muddy colour. It’s this churning that makes the river dangerous to those hopeful to enter the beckoning waters. It is this temptation that Dona Onete has delightfully captured with Rebujo, her love letter to her Amazonian home of Belém.

Rebujo takes that which has settled in your body, churns it all around and makes you move. The danger here lies in what comes to the surface, likely hidden from yourself, as you are beckoned to dance. You are tempted to explore that inner silt and to keep exploring it with each new song. The sometimes wild rhythms create turbulence in your feet as you try to keep up, forced to trust that your feet will land solidly on the ground.

On the cusp of her 80th birthday, Onete has given us a gift with Rebujo. As much as it is a celebration of her home, it is a celebration of her life. And what a joyous celebration it is, how sweet of her to invite us all. Like a river, Rebujo fills your ears with two music styles born in Belém: carimbós, influenced by African grooves, and bangues, a ska-type rhythm, along with cumbia, brega (‘romantic’ music) and samba. And like a river, the banks are a boundary that cannot always contain, as the sounds often overflow, creating new and exciting pathways.

The call and response and the clapping of songs like Mexe Mexe and Vem Chamegar make you feel like you are included in all the joy. Like if you close your eyes you will be transported straight to the party, clapping, dancing, and singing to your heart’s content. The songs are so inviting it honestly feels like you know her like Dona Onete is singing directly to you. But even that doesn’t quite do it justice, it’s more intimate than that, it’s like she’s taking care of you. Like each word is sung especially for you to fill you with love and warmth, like a blanket fresh from the dryer.

“Musa de Babilonia” is a loving ode to the beautiful black women of the favelas. It starts off slow with this beautiful combination of flute and drums and morphs into an unhurried, jazzy samba that takes its time with you, ensuring that you have space to take in the subtle power of the muse, giving them the love and admiration they deserve. She calls the women the muses of Rio de Janeiro, comparing them to sirens and mermaids who wear the leaves of coconut trees wrapped in their hair. It evokes a delicate yet strong, and maybe a little bit risky, image of a woman who deserves all the praise in the world.

“Fogo na Aldeia” seeps into your skin. Before I even knew what was happening I was up on my feet dancing. The song has all the elements for the most delightful celebration. A song about 19th-century Brazilian revolutionaries, she has again penned a worthy homage that epitomizes the theme that undergirds the celebration; justice.

Rebujo is indeed part love-letter, part war-cry. Onete sees herself as a spokesperson for indigenous people and minorities, using her music to help Amazonian communities and shed light on the people’s plight. Onete says, “my energy comes from the river…It’s like blood rushing through my veins, there’s no stopping it – or me”. And thanks to Rebujo, there’s no stopping you either.

Molly Gallegos