Solomon Linda version
They Might Be Giants’ version (my favourite!)
The Tokens’ version
Wikipedia “The Lion Sleeps Tonight“, also known as “Wimba Way” or “Wimoweh” (and originally as “Mbube“), is a song written and recorded by Solomon Linda originally with the Evening Birds (Song by Solomon Linda originally titled just “Mbube”) for the South African Gallo Record Company in 1939. Originally composed only in IsiZulu, it was adapted and covered internationally by many 1950s pop and folk revival artists, including The Weavers, Jimmy Dorsey, Yma Sumac, Miriam Makeba, and The Kingston Trio. In 1961, it became a number one hit in the U.S. as adapted in English by the doo-wop group The Tokens. It went on to earn at least US$15 million in royalties from covers and film licensing. In the mid-nineties, it became a pop “supernova” (in the words of South African writer Rian Malan) when licensed toWalt Disney for use in the film The Lion King, its spin-off TV series and live musical, prompting a lawsuit in 2004 on behalf of the impoverished descendants of Solomon Linda.
- “Mbube” (Zulu: lion) was written in the 1920s by Solomon Linda, a South African singer of Zulu origin, who worked for the Gallo Record Company as a cleaner and record packer, and who performed with a choir, The Evening Birds.
- Linda’s improvised melody was wordless; no English words occur in the recording. Issued by Gallo as a 78 recording in 1939 and marketed to black audiences,”Mbube” became a hit and Linda a star throughout South Africa. By 1948, the song had sold about 100,000 copies in Africa and among black South African immigrants in Great Britain.
- Mbube’s history is clouded by cultural exploitation. The story starts in Eric Gallo’s Johannesburg studio, where migrant Zulu musician Linda and his group, The Evening Birds, were paid ten shillings for their original song. It went on to sell 10,000 copies in the ’40s.
- Despite being ‘lionised’ in South Africa, where he is regarded as the founder of Zulu choral (or Mbube) music, Linda died a pauper in 1962, he and his estate having received almost none of the royalties the song generated (including an estimated $15M alone from its use in Disney’s The Lion King). It was only in 2006, under threat of of legal action, that publishers Abilene Music agreed to a financial settlement with Linda’s heirs.