Imagine being a kid again. Your tooth falls out and you place it under your pillow, anticipating the glint of a shiny new coin the next morning. For years, you believe that a magical, winged creature ventured into your room, replacing your tooth with money. Fast-forward a few years and you discover your childhood was a lie. It was mom all along. It was this exact same feeling that washed over me as I discovered the true origins of the song I’ve been humming along to all my life. ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ has been a part of my musical knowledge ever since I can remember. From school plays to afternoons spent watching ‘The Lion King’, the all-too-familiar “awimbowe” has often popped up in my lifetime. As most hit songs that permeated my childhood, to me it was just another track that the American music industry had composed and produced. I was wrong. The tooth fairy does not exist.

Upon discovering that the original composer was a man named Solomon Linda, living in my birth country, something stirred in me resembling a mixture of nationalistic pride and anger. At first I smiled to myself, thinking how great it was that the brains behind the song I had grown up with were South African. This was all good and well until I learnt that Linda died in poverty, with no share of the benefits reaped by the very song he composed. I wonder if he an inkling of the popularity the song would reach, as he stood in front of that microphone in Gallo Record Company’s studio.

I somehow doubt that Linda composed the song with any intention of becoming famous or wealthy. To him, music was just a part of his life and making money off of it was undoubtedly a foreign concept to him. This then makes me wonder if the American’s use of the song can be called stealing or was it just a case of, “Well, if you won’t then I will”. It’s just sad to think that Linda could have lived a better life, had he been properly credited for the original composing of the song. If you are going to use somebody else’s song, one should at least give credit where credit is due. The fact that his family couldn’t even afford to put a headstone on his grave only angers me further.

What all this made me think is that this is not the only song not written by the person who made it a chart topper. Before Neyo became the star he is today he was a songwriter. He wrote songs for people like Beyonce and Rihanna. Both of them turned his songs into hits that spread like wildfire across the world. I’m not saying that Neyo didn’t receive credit for his songs as he must have been given some sort of payment but there must have been a moment where he decided he wasn’t going to let someone else get all the recognition for a song that he wrote. After the release of his first single, Neyo immediately became a worldwide sensation. Could Linda have done the same? Probably not. But given the sufficient resources, he might have.

Another example is Bonnie McKee. She wrote several songs for Britney Spears including ‘Hold It Against Me’ which reached the number one spot on several charts across the world. In addition, she wrote Katy Perry’s ‘Teenage Dreams’ and ‘California Girls’ as well as Tao Cruz’s ‘Dynamite’. Millions have been made off of these tracks, yet when Bonnie tried her hand at releasing an album of her own, it only managed to sell 17,000 copies. Why is it that she isn’t able to capture the fans she has gained for so many other pop artists?

After some thinking was done, I realised that the only solution to getting rid of my feeling of being cheated all my life was to change my perspective. What these so called musicians are, is performers. Just like Mark Zuckerberg has a team of people who write Facebook and Steve Jobs had staff to develop new products, so do these performers have an entourage of people, all working together, like the cogs in a machine, to perfect the “face” of a brand. It’s a clever marketing tool, I’ll admit.

Almost every industry in the world has implemented a marketing interface. Look at consumer products like oil, bath products and foods. The label given credit for the product is usually not its producer, but a brand. For example, Band-Aid is not the name of the Chinese rubber manufacturing plant that makes the adhesive material. This marketing interface has benefits for the music industry as it enables the “product” to be distributed to its anticipating audience most efficiently. A producer is more likely to make sales if he brands a country song under a name like Taylor Swift than he would under a non-consumerised name. I guess what it comes down to is that music is essentially a business.

But I refuse to believe that that is all it is. I know there are many artists out there who write their own stuff, expressing who they are through their music. I recently went to a gig and walked away feeling as though I had caught a glimpse of the bands soul. But now that I look back, how could I be sure that the songs were written by them? They could have gotten their song from anywhere for all I know. But does that really matter at all? Music is all about experience and how it makes you feel. Kahn Morbee of The Parlotones once said in an interview that he will never describe where he found inspiration for the band’s tracks as he wants their fans to take it in, listen to it and form their own meaning. I might be wiser about the origins of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” but it doesn’t change my memories and feelings surrounding it. I now know that the tooth fairy does not exist but I will never forget the immense feeling of joy that washed over me as I lifted my pillow to discover the wealth that lay beneath it. And no mother or marketing interface will ever take that away from me. – Jean Jacobs

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