Ask anyone outside of the southern part of Africa what they think of Zulu music, and you’ll most likely get a rather blank, confused look. The truth is, they probably think they have never been exposed to it. Start singing “Wimoweh’ to them though, and a light will come on and they will nod excitedly as they realize they know what you’re talking about. Or they’ll think they do. The truth is, the top-charting ‘Wimoweh’ and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ songs are probably the only real recognizable influences Zulu music has had outside its own regions.

A quick internet search shows just that. A very brief Wikipedia article gives credit to Solomon Linda for his influence in creating ‘Mbube’, the original starting point for ‘Wimoweh’ and its successive followers. That’s about it though. There’s very little mention of anything besides Linda’s influence as a Zulu man in international music.

Based on Solomon Linda’s experience in the music industry though, it’s easy to see how it has been difficult for Zulu musicians to get their music into popularity abroad. When he recorded ‘Mbube’ in 1939, he walked away with 10 shillings in his pocket. Although his family recounts him as a happy man who just loved to sing and make music, for a Zulu man at the time, it was no way to make a living. His family was living in poverty, and he ended up dying without seeing a single cent of the profits his song would go on to create. Unbeknownst to him and his family, ‘Mbube’ was brought to America and when more than a decade late it came to light in The Weaver’s remake, “Wimoweh’. Linda was given no credit and no profit for it at the time. As the song’s popularity continued to skyrocket, and hundreds of versions were made, the money that one single song ‘Mbube’ should have grossed would have been unfathomable to Linda’s family. Yet they never even realized they should be upset until Pete Seeger of The Weavers started sending them some compensation. It was not nearly the amount they should have received however.

With a history of getting kicked to the side like that, it becomes understandable why very few Zulu artists have come to light. Linda was known in his community for his unaltered, raw talent and a voice that few could touch. Even when the recording done by Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds hit America, musicians there, Pete Seeger included, were quite impressed at his tonal range. It was something that took The Weavers and many other artists by surprise. The soprano range that would later become an international phenomena was an unusual quality in music at that time, and even today it is still rather uncommon for male vocalists to hit notes in such a high pitch. There is undeniable talent not only in his ability to write and compose, but in his vocals as shown in ‘Mbube’. However Linda is not the only one.

During the height of Linda’s musical career, it was common for Zulu communities to hold singing contests that would bring entire communities together. Linda was not the only one to showcase his talents at these competitions, and yet with so much talent thriving, very little of it was ever to see daylight. With Linda’s short time in the recording studio, it took almost a decade for his song to get to America, and by the time it hit mainstream radio, the connection to Linda and the Zulu culture had been all but lost. Even as it became a top-charting single by multiple artists, played in various commercials, movies and television shows throughout the century, the song’s Zulu roots were never made known to the millions who would come to know and love it.

What is so surprising is that, as the true origins of the song are slowly becoming known in more recent years, there has still been little development in the popularization of Zulu music. While at least some effort has been made on the part of certain people in the music industry who have worked with Linda’s song to restore some of the money that should have rightfully been his, very few people have put time or money into investigating other Zulu music sources. It seems obvious that, after the success of Linda’s work with ‘Mbube’ that there is definite talent in the Zulu communities of South Africa. While there was a great deal of injustice that was brought to light after some odd years in trying to get Solomon Linda’s family the profits that should have been rightfully theirs, there were more consequences than just lost proceeds in not crediting Linda in the original revision of his song: a public that lacks the knowledge of where one of their most beloved songs truly originates from; a loss of interest in a talented culture that is now rather ignored in the music industry; even possibly the rise of a sometimes downtrodden culture that has, especially in Solomon Linda’s case, been exploited time and time again.

While many see the issue of Linda not getting credit for his part in the millions that ‘Wimoweh’ and ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ and all the remakes made, the true crisis is more than just the money. While it is a misfortune that Linda and his family never saw the profits they should have, the real tragedy is in what the Zulu community lost as a whole. They lost their chance to gloat about their part in a worldwide phenomena, they lost their chance to shine and showcase other talented musicians, and they lost their chance to show what a awesome influence their culture could really be in the music industry. Compensations are only just now starting to trickle down to Solomon Linda’s family, but what about the Zulu nation as a whole? When are they going to be compensated for the missed opportunities they never got? It is time for the true talent of the Zulu communities to shine once again, and this time they will be heard and everyone will know who they are.

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