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 wbur.org.

“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).


2 thoughts on “O Meu Guri”

  1. It’s taken me a few days, but I have now read all your posts on Chico Buarque and enjoyed each one.

    I once took a college class on Latin American music that was covered so poorly, even then in my complete ignorance I felt the — ahem — “professor” had done a huge injustice to the topic. Years later I’m now stumbling upon this amazing music and poetry. Thanks for helping me understand the words; my scant knowledge of Spanish + Google Translate can only interpret so much.

    Muito obrigada!

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