Pau de Arara

Lyrics from “Pau de Arara” by Carlos Lyra and Vinicius de Moraes (1965) from musical Pobre Menina Rica

Good Audio Version (without spoken sections)


I was growing tired of how hungry I was, of the hunger I had
I had nothing, what hunger I had…
What a cursed drought in my Ceará
I went and got together what little I had
Two old pairs of pants and a little guitar
And in a pau-de-arara I set off for here
And at night I would stay on the beach of Copacabana
Roaming on the beach of Copacabana
Dancing the Xaxado for the girls to watch
Virgin saint, the hunger was such that I didn’t even have a voice
My God, so many girls, … what hunger I had
More hunger than I had in my Ceará


That’s when I decided to swaller razors
There was a buddy of mine from up there in Quizeramubim that made a lot of money swallowing razors on Copacabana beach. By day, he’d go door to door asking for ol’ razors, and by night he’d swaller them all for everyone to see. I don’t know, but I think he swallowed so many that by the time I got there on the beach, those people watching already had indigestion from seeing that comrade swaller razors. One time, I was so hungry that I went like this to a boy that was passing by: “Decent fellow!  You let me swaller one little razor for you?” “Get outta here, pau-de-arara, you got it?” “Oh, distinguished one! Just one, cause I haven’t eaten anything yet today.” “You really insist, don’t you, pau-de-arara!”  That left me so annoyed, that if it weren’t for the love that I had for my little guitar, I would have smashed it over the head of that father of a mare…


Son of a gun, no life was worse than mine
What a cursed life, what hunger I had
Roaming on the beach, from here to there
When I saw all those people just eatin’ and eatin’,
I swear I felt longing for the hunger,
The hunger that I had in my Ceará
And so I would go on and sing and dance the Xaxado
And I only managed because in the Xaxado, you can really only drag yourself along
Virgin saint, the hunger was such that it even seemed
That even dancing,  my body rose up
Just as if it were trying to fly


Sometimes the hunger was such that a lotta times we stirred up a little fight to go eat some grub in the slammer. Ah, good meal in the stomach… But, forgive my language, we gave it all back afterwards, cause the grub was already spoilt. But, while it was still in our stomachs… calm… what joy!  Nah, but now things is gettin’ better, ya know?  There’s a really nice lady, over there in Leblon, who really likes to see me swaller shards of glass. That’s some real kindness! With that, I already saved some five hundred thousand réis. When I get a little more, I’m getting gone.  I’m going back to my Ceará.


I gonna leave for my Ceará because there I have a name
And here I’m nothing, I’m just a Joe-Hungry
I’m just a “pau-de-arara,” I don’t even know how to sing anymore
I’m going to prod my mule, I’m leaving before everything blows up
Because I’m thinkin’ the weather’s hot
And it can’t get any worse than this

–Interpretation —

The pau de arara truck, which migrants traveled on for days to reach cities like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte.

Pau-de-arara — literally “parrot’s perch” — is a rustic truck (pictured above) that millions of migrants from Brazil’s poorest northeastern states traveled on to cities in the southeast, most notably Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.  In turn, in these cities “pau-de-arara” also turned into a pejorative term for migrants from the northeast, as the singer alludes to at the end of the song: “Here… I’m just a pau-de-arara.”

The Xaxado is a traditional northeastern dance in which dancers shuffle, or “drag,” their feet to the rhythm (see this YouTube video). The name Xaxado – pronounced “sha-shado” –  is an onomatopoeia for the sound the dancers’ feet make dragging on the ground. I translated literally, “…What hunger I had” – even though it’s not something we would say in English – mostly to keep the first line as true to the original Portuguese as possible:  “…I had nothing, what hunger I had.”  Some of the northeastern accent/dialect in the song — “para as moças oiá,”  “não pode ficá”  — is lost in the English translation, though I’ve tried to keep it where I could.

As  migration from northeastern Brazil became increasingly intense in the 1950s and 1960s (see this post), and political and social engagement in Brazilian popular music became more popular, songs about the migrants’ condition – both in the drought-plagued northeast and in the southeastern cities – grew more common.  The pau-de-arara itself became a recurrent theme in such songs, perhaps the most well-known being “Pau-de-Arara” by Luiz Gonzaga and Guio de Moraes (1952) and “Ultimo Pau-de-arara” by Venâncio, Corumbá, and José Palmeira Guimarães (1973). (In this 1973 video, Maria Bethânia sings both.)

This song was written during the years of closest collaboration between Carlos Lyra and Vinicius de Moraes. In 1962, Carlos presented Vinicius with a set of melodies in need of lyrics.  To Carlos’s surprise, Vinicius declared that the songs went perfectly together, and should be turned into a musical.  During a summer stay in Vinicius’s home in Petrópolis, a mountain resort town in Rio de Janeiro where Vinicius had also written the lyrics for “Garota de Ipanema,” the two worked on the songs together. Vinicius wrote lyrics for Lyra’s melodies and wove them into a story called Pobre Menina Rica, Poor Rich Girl. The musical play was written with Nara Leão in mind as the protagonist, a lonely rich girl who falls in love with a disabled beggar living outside of her home.

Carlos Lyra wasn’t convinced by the plot, and asked Vinicius, “Don’t you think it’s a bit unlikely that this beautiful rich girl would fall in love with a beggar?”  Vinicius, ever the romantic, responded, “It so happens that this beggar is charming, advanced, and put-together… and what’s more, it was Spring, my dear partner, Spring, understand?” Ultimately, the perhaps implausible plot was overshadowed by the lovely songs in the play, including “Primavera,” “Sabe você,” “Maria Moita,” and “Samba do Carioca,” along with “Pau de Arara.”

The play was put on first at Teatro Maison de France, then moved to Teatro de Bolsa, at which point some of the actors were replaced. That’s when the comedian Ary Toledo (singing in the video above) began playing the role of the migrant from Ceará, who was based on a poor northeasterner, familiar to Vinicius, who lived on Copacabana and got by dancing Xaxado and swallowing razors. Toledo asked Carlos Lyra for permission to record the song for the soundtrack, in 1964, and went on to record a live version at Teatro Record during the program O Fino da Bossahosted by Elis Regina and Jair Rodrigues. The audience laughed heartily at Toledo’s comic performance, as you can hear in the recording.

Tom Jobim was meant to provide musical arrangement for the album Pobre Menina Rica, and Elis Regina, just 19 years old at the time, was considered to sing the rich girl’s songs on the soundtrack.  Tom nixed Elis for the role, though, saying her disheveled appearance made her look more like a country bumpkin than a patrician (even though no one would actually have seen her). Ultimately, Tom didn’t end up handing in musical arrangements, either. Carlos Lyra said this was because the 1964 military coup left Tom worried about dictatorship’s reaction to the musical’s “social theme”; Tom said he just didn’t have time. Thus, for the soundtrack, the part of the rich girl ended up going to Dulce Nunes, and Radamés Gnatalli took over the musical arrangement. And so, as Ruy Castro mentions in Chega de Saudade: A História e as Histórias da Bossa Nova, Pobre Menina Rica “missed the chance to bring together Tom Jobim and Elis Regina ten years earlier than they finally ended up working together,” on the legendary 1974 album Elis & Tom.

Carlos Lyra (left), Aloysio de Oliveira, Nara Leão and Vinicius de Moraes preparing the musical “Pobre Menina Rica”

Lyrics in Portuguese

Eu vinha cansado da fome que tava, da fome que eu tinha
Eu não tinha nada, que fome que eu tinha
Que seca danada no meu Ceará
Eu peguei e juntei um restinho de coisa que eu tinha
Duas calça velha, uma violinha
E num pau-de-arara toquei para cá
E de noite ficava na praia de Copacabana
Zanzando na praia de Copacabana
Dançando o xaxado pras moças oiá
Virgem Santa, que a fome era tanta que nem voz eu tinha
Meu Deus, tanta moça… que fome que eu tinha
Mais fome que eu tinha no meu Ceará


Foi aí que eu resolvi comê gilete.
Tinha um compadre meu lá de Quixeramubim que ganhou um dinheirão comendo gilete na praia de Copacabana. De dia ele ia de casa em casa pedindo gilete véia, e de noite ele comia aquilo tudinho pro pessoal vê. Eu não sei não, mas acho que ele comeu tanto, que quando eu cheguei lá na praia aquele pessoá já tava até com indigestão de tanto vê o camarada comê gilete. Uma vez, eu tava com tanta fome que falei assim prum moço que ia passando: “Decente! Voismecê deixa eu comê uma giletezinha pra voismecê vê?” “Sai pra lá, pau-de-arara. Tu não te manca, não?” “Oh, distinto! Só uma, que eu não comi nadinha ainda hoje.” “Tu enche, hein, pau-de-arara!” Aquilo me deixou tão aperriado, que se não fosse o amor que eu tinha na minha violinha, eu tinha arrebentado ela na cabeça daquele pai-d’égua.


Puxa vida, não tinha uma vida pior do que a minha
Que vida danada, que fome que eu tinha
Zanzando na praia, pra lá e pra cá
Quando eu via toda aquela gente no come-que-come
Eu juro que tinha saudade da fome
Da fome que eu tinha no meu Ceará
E daí eu pegava e cantava e dançava o xaxado
E só conseguia porque no xaxado
Agente só pode mesmo se arrastar
Virgem Santa, que a fome era tanta que até parecia
Que mesmo xaxando meu corpo subia
Igual se tivesse querendo voar


Às vezes a fome era tanta que volta e meia a gente arrumava uma briguinha pra ir comê uma bóia no xadrez. Eta quentinho bom na barriga… Mas, com perdão da palavra, a gente devolvia tudo depois, que a bóia já vinha estragada. Mas, enquanto ela tava ali dentro da barriga… Quietinha… Que felicidade! Não… Mas agora as coisas tão meiorando, sabe? Tem uma senhora muito bondosa, lá no Leblon, que gosta muito de vê eu comê caco de vrido. Isso é que é bondade da boa. Com isso, já juntei assim uns quinhento mil réis. Quando tivé mais um pouquinho, eu vou-se embora. Volto pro meu Ceará.


Vou-se embora pro meu Ceará porque lá tenho um nome
E aqui não sou nada, sou só Zé-com-fome
Sou só pau-de-arara, nem sei mais cantar
Vou picar minha mula, vou antes que tudo rebente
Porque tô achando que o tempo tá quente
Pior do que anda não pode ficá

Main sources for this post:  A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol 2: 1958-1985, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello;  Chega de Saudade: A História e as Histórias da Bossa Nova by Ruy Castro; and the documentary Vinícius (2005).

O Meu Guri

Lyrics from “O Meu Guri” by Chico Buarque
Album: Almanaque (1981)

Good Audio Version

When, young man, my child was born
It wasn’t the moment for him to come out
He came out looking hungry
And I didn’t even have a name to give him
How I carried on, I don’t know how to explain to you
I carried on like this – with him carrying me
And in his boyhood, one day he said to me
That he was getting there

Look there! Look there! Look there! Look at my boy, look there!
Look there, it’s my boy and he’s getting there!

He arrives sweaty and swift from his hard work
He always brings a present, making me ashamed
So many gold chains, my boy! Let there be neck to string them on
He brought me a purse with everything in it!
Keys, address book, rosary beads and amulet
A kerchief and a bunch of documents,
For me to finally be able to identify myself,
Look there!

Look there! Look there! Look there! Look at my boy, look there!
Look there, it’s my boy and he’s getting there!

He arrives on the hillside with a load
Bracelets, cement, watch, tire, tape recorder
I pray until he arrives up here on the hilltop,
This wave of assaults is a horror
I console him, he consoles me
I put him on my lap for him to rock me to sleep
Suddenly I wake up, I look to my side
And the little brute’s already left for work
Look there!

Look there! Look there! Look there! Look at my boy, look there!
Look there, it’s my boy and he’s getting there!

He arrives in print, headline, portrait
With a blindfold over his eyes– caption and initials
I don’t understand these people, my boy!
Making such an uproar
The boy in the woods, I think he’s laughing, I think he’s beautiful
Just lazing about
From the beginning, didn’t I say so, young man!
He said he was getting there!

Look there! Look there!

Look there! Look there! Look there! Look at my boy, look there!
Look there, it’s my boy and he’s getting there!

— Interpretation —

Boys in a favela, Rio de Janeiro, 1980. Photo by Bruno Barbey.

“Getting there” in this song is used to mean “making it” – becoming successful, coming out on top.  The first line uses a play on the word rebento (offspring, offshoot) and rebentar, which can be used for birth (bloom, blossom, open up), but also for a criminal (break out), and can also mean to blow up, break, or explode.

Chico Buarque is renowned for his uncanny talent for writing lyrics from the female point of view — e.g., Com Açucar, com Afeto; Olhos nos Olhos; Tatuagem; A Violeira — and for capturing the sentiments and suffering of the most marginalized members of society, including the poor, prostitutes, transvestites and crooks. Some of the most well-known songs of the latter genre are Geni e o Zepelim, Pedro Pedreiro, Assentamento, Não Sonho Mais, and Pivete.  “O meu guri” is representative of both of these tendencies in Chico’s songs.

Released in 1981, the song was also remarkable because it was written in the voice of a mother, rather than a wife or prostitute. The story begins with an undesired pregnancy. The mother, a poor favelada, or slum-dweller, speaking to a third party – “young man” – recognizes that she wasn’t prepared to have a son. But she ends up finding her only solace in her son, blind to his life of delinquency. Throughout the song, the role of mother and son are inverted: she carries on by letting him “carry” her; he rocks her to sleep.  She sees his stolen “gifts” not as loot, but as tokens of his hard work, and is ashamed she wasn’t able to provide the same for him. She is excited to use the ID in a stolen purse, apparently never having had an ID of her own, and lists “cement” as one of the items he brings home, indicating the precariousness of her home in the favela.  Meanwhile, she prays for the boy when he’s not home, worried by the “wave of assaults” that he’s most likely taking part in.  Even when he “arrives” as a picture and headline in the newspaper – an announcement of his death –  she sees a boy who is laughing and beautiful.

Boy bathing in a public faucet in the Complexo do Alemão favela in Rio de Janeiro, c. 2008. Photo via

“O meu guri” was released after a decade of urban explosion in Brazil. The 1970s were the peak years of Brazil’s rural exodus, a phenomenon that began in the 1930s. In 1940, only around 31% of Brazil’s population lived in cities; by 1970, urban residents accounted for more than 50% of the population, and in 1980, nearly 70%.

Most of the poor rural migrants arriving in Brazil’s large cities settled in slums in the periphery, where they were able to set up flimsy shacks cheaply, and tap into services like water and electricity for free. By 1980, nearly 15% of Rio de Janeiro’s population lived in these favelas. And that decade didn’t bring improvements for the favelados: hyperinflation and economic instability that began in the late 1970s continued throughout the 1980s, and inequality and poverty both increased. Anything more than an elementary school education was a privilege reserved for middle- and upper-class Brazilians, and most migrants had no land titles or official documents.

Favela in Rio de Janeiro and view of city below. c. 1980. Photo by Bruno Barbey

Police brutality quickly became a major problem in favelas (as it continues to be). In the 1960s, newspapers began publishing pictures of young bandits who had been murdered by police forces, with notes next to them saying “I robbed” or “I raped.” To counter state-sponsored repression,  organized crime networks began to emerge in the 1960s and consolidated in the 1970s, in part because of collaboration in prison between common criminals and political prisoners of Brazil’s military dictatorship. To complicate matters for favela residents in Rio de Janeiro, by the early 1980s their neighborhoods were becoming an important international hub for the cocaine trade.

The public grew accustomed to the violent power struggles taking place in the favelas. Young victims of the wars garnered little or no attention in the media, and were usually written off as criminals, anyway; their family members had no resources to seek any sort of justice. In “O meu guri,” Chico Buarque paints a different picture, speaking from the perspective of the mother of one of these victims. The boy is portrayed as loving and dedicated, and is everything to his mother, to an extent that she’s unable or unwilling to recognize what he has turned to in order to achieve some sort of success in life.

Recently, Luiz Tatit, a Brazilian musician, musicologist, professor and linguist, said if he had to choose seven Brazilian songs to replace those that were chosen for the English book 1,001 Songs you Must Hear Before you Die, “o Meu Guri” would be on the list.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Quando, seu moço
Nasceu meu rebento
Não era o momento
Dele rebentar
Já foi nascendo
Com cara de fome
E eu não tinha nem nome
Prá lhe dar
Como fui levando
Não sei lhe explicar
Fui assim levando
Ele a me levar
E na sua meninice
Ele um dia me disse
Que chegava lá
Olha aí! Olha aí!

Olha aí!
Ai o meu guri, olha aí!
Olha aí!
É o meu guri e ele chega!

Chega suado
E veloz do batente
Traz sempre um presente
Prá me encabular
Tanta corrente de ouro
Seu moço!
Que haja pescoço
Prá enfiar
Me trouxe uma bolsa
Já com tudo dentro
Chave, caderneta
Terço e patuá
Um lenço e uma penca
De documentos
Prá finalmente
Eu me identificar
Olha aí!

Olha aí!
Ai o meu guri, olha aí!
Olha aí!
É o meu guri e ele chega!

Chega no morro
Com carregamento
Pulseira, cimento
Relógio, pneu, gravador
Rezo até ele chegar
Cá no alto
Essa onda de assaltos
Tá um horror
Eu consolo ele
Ele me consola
Boto ele no colo
Prá ele me ninar
De repente acordo
Olho pro lado
E o danado já foi trabalhar
Olha aí!

Olha aí!
Ai o meu guri, olha aí!
Olha aí!
É o meu guri e ele chega!

Chega estampado
Manchete, retrato
Com venda nos olhos
Legenda e as iniciais
Eu não entendo essa gente
Seu moço!
Fazendo alvoroço demais
O guri no mato
Acho que tá rindo
Acho que tá lindo
De papo pro ar
Desde o começo eu não disse
Seu moço!
Ele disse que chegava lá
Olha aí! Olha aí!

Olha aí!
Ai o meu guri, olha aí
Olha aí!
E o meu guri!…(3x)

Sources:  “Crise urbana e favelização no Rio de Janeiro: para uma crítica da ‘questão urbana’ contemporánea,” by Marcos Rodrigues Alves Barreira and Maurilio Lima Botelha;  The Throes of Democracy: Brazil since 1989by Bryan McCann (2008); Chico Buarque: Análise poético-musical, by Gilberto de Carvalho (1982).


Beijo Partido

Lyrics from “Beijo Partido” (1975) by Toninho Horta (Antônio Mauricio Horta de Melo)
Album: Nana Caymmi (Nana Caymmi,1975) and Minas (Milton Nascimento, 1975)

Good Audio Version

You know, I don’t have faith in this madness of mine
And I say I don’t like someone who ruins me, in pieces
And God only knows about you
And I don’t deserve a broken kiss
Today’s nothing more than a day lost in time
And I’m far from all that I know
That’s not spoken of anymore
I know I’ll be for you what I don’t care to know
Today I’m nothing more than a shattered vessel in my chest
And I scream look at the broken kiss
Where must the queen be, lucidity hid her away…

— Interpretation —

Regine Méllac, Wagner Tiso, Toninho Horta, Milton Nascimento, an unnamed French journalist and Fernando Brant, on a radio interview during European tour. Paris, 1980.

In Portuguese, the phrase for “broken heart” is coração partido.  In 1973, the recently heartbroken Toninho Horta, 24 at the time, composed the music for “Beijo Partido” — Broken Kiss.  For two years, the song had no lyrics, until  Toninho sat down at the piano one day in 1975 and quickly penned the heavyhearted verses.

The music showcases Toninho’s signature style of a simple melodic line backed by an exquisite, intricate harmony. The line “E Deus é quem sabe de ti” (translated as “God only knows about you”) – with its ascending melody and delicately descending harmony – captures this style, which captivated and influenced musicians around the world.

Nana Caymmi recorded “Beijo Partido” for her 1975 album Nana Caymmi; shortly thereafter, Milton Nascimento, a fellow Mineiro and member of the Clube da Esquina, recorded it on his album Minas.  Toninho plays guitar and piano on Milton’s recording, and provides back-up vocals that he says were meant to “reinforce the mysterious atmosphere in the musical setting demanded by the arrangement.”

Toninho Horta was born in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, on December 2, 1948. His father played guitar and his mother played guitar and mandolin. As a boy, he accompanied his older brother, the bass player Paulo Horta, to Belo Horizonte’s famed Ponto dos Músicos (Musicians’ Point), where the city’s most talented and dedicated musicians came together daily to talk about music and play. There, many of the members of Clube da Esquina met and began playing together. (Marilton Borges points out that today, “who’d have guessed it,” a church stands where the Musicians’ Point used to be, on Rua Alfonso Pena between Tupinambás and Curitiba.) Toninho went to Ponto dos Músicos to listen to and learn from one of the most revered guitarists playing there in the early 1960s, Chiquito Braga. By age 13, Toninho had begun composing.

In Os sonhos não envelhecem, Márcio Borges – Milton Nascimento’s first partner – credits Toninho with getting him accepted to his first MPB festival.  In 1967, Márcio submitted a number of songs written with Milton for Globo’s Festival Internacional da Canção.  He was frustrated and jealous when he found out  that none of these songs had qualified, though three of Milton’s other songs had made the cut: “Morro Velho,” “Travessia” with Fernando Brant, and “Maria, Minha Fé.” But shortly after Márcio received this disappointing news,  the young Toninho brought him a song and asked for lyrics. Márcio wrote hurriedly, eager for another chance to qualify for the festival; the song became “Nem é Carnaval,” and passed.*

Left to Right: Fernando Brant, Márcio Borges, and Toninho Horta in 2011, at the opening of Belo Horizonte’s SESC Palladium.

“Nem é Carnaval” was cut in the first round of the festival; nonetheless, it provided Márcio with a convenient opportunity to introduce Fernando Brant to Toninho. In preparation for the festival, Márcio and Toninho had to have photos taken to send to the organizers, and so did Fernando Brant. Márcio worked it out so that all of them had their pictures taken together. He introduced the two, and the musicians moved closer to consolidating the original Clube da Esquina.

Toninho achieved international recognition when the first Clube da Esquina album was released, in 1972. By 1977 he was placed among the top ten guitarists in the world by the British journal Melody MakerHe continued working with Milton and other musicians from Clube da Esquina throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s. He moved to New York City in 1990, released a number of albums in the United States and Japan, and returned to Brazil in 1999. These days, he continues to play; manages a record label — Minas Records; and is working on publishing the Livrão da Música Brasileira, a compilation of over 700 scores inspired by the American Real Book.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Sabe, eu não faço fé nessa minha loucura
E digo eu não gosto de quem me arruína em pedaços
E Deus é quem sabe de ti
E eu não mereço um beijo partido
Hoje não passa de um dia perdido no tempo
E fico longe de tudo o que sei
Não se fala mais nisso
Eu sei, eu serei pra você o que não me importa saber
Hoje não passo de um vaso quebrado no peito
E grito olha o beijo partido
Onde estará a rainha
Que a lucidez escondeu, escondeu …

Main sources for this post:  A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol. 2, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello; Os sonhos não envelhecem: Historias do Clube da Esquina, by Márcio Borges; and the website, Museu do Clube da Esquina

*In Os sonhos não envelhecem, Márcio says the song they wrote together in 1967 was “Correntes,” but that was actually their submission to the 1969 festival.