“Mbube”, “Wimoweh” or “The Lion Sleeps”, the most famous song to come from Africa, having been recorded by countless musicians and used in commercials, theatre and films such as Disney’s The Lion King, is a song the entire world knows. Born in a moment of other-worldly improvisation from a Zulu man named Solomon Linda in 1939, “Mbube” and all its imitation live long after Solomon Linda died, a poor man, reaping nothing from the millions “Mbube” would make but respect and legendary status from his fellow Zulu’s. And this owes all to the exploitation of the uneducated Zulu who knew no better when he practically sold his song for ten shillings to Eric Gallo of Gallo Records, unaware of what his rights were as the song writer and the fortune white American men would make from his song in the future.

A Lion’s Trail takes us the journey of “Mbube”, starting in Johannesburg, South Africa at one of the only recording studio for natives in South Africa, Gallo Records. This is where Solomon Linda and The Evening Birds first recorded the song that would one day become an international hit and one of the most played song in the US. Linda signs a little piece of paper that entitles Gallo Records to the copyrights to the song and receives a “petty cash voucher” of 10 shillings in return. It is in this moment that ignorance of the young Zulu man is doomed to one day become bliss and fortune of an American man named George Weiss.

Within the region of South Africa  “Mbube” sells 100, 0000 copies and becomes a hit. Solomon and The Evening Birds become superstars amongst the Zulu’s, reigning number one in all the local isicathamiya competitions. However, Linda’s journey ends here; unaware of that his record had made it across the world to the USA. By 1948 the record has found its way into the hands of Peter Seeger, lead singer of The Weavers, who went on to transcribe “Mbube” into “Wimoweh”.

It is in 1961 that a pop group fresh out of high school is introduced to “Wimoweh” and performs it in an audition for a record deal. Songwriter George Weiss is introduced to the band with the intention of re-making the song in order to popularise it. For George Weiss, claiming ownership to a masterpiece drenched in centuries of cultural history was common practice in the 1960’s and while it  was frowned upon if one was caught out it was not unaccepted as long as there was no one to counterclaim the copyrights. To song writers like Weiss old folk songs like “Mbube” were just wild horses and were fair game however, “Mbube” was not just another old folk song.

When challenged in a lawsuit in 1991 Weiss’s own acclaimed ignorance to the fact that “Mbube” was not an old folk song the Zulu’s sang when hunting lions but indeed an original piece composed by Linda, managed to win him the full copyrights to “The Lion Sleeps” as long as his ten words are used in the arrangement.

Journalist Rian Malan investigates these copyright issues and proves how others have unjustly made millions by adapting Linda’s song and melody into popular tune while he died so poor that his family could not afford a tombstone for his grave. It is estimated that “Mbube” has been recorded and adapted by over one hundred different artists and used in many commercials and films, including Disney’s The Lion King, and has generated something between 15 and 20 million dollars over that last 73 years of which Linda and his family have received but a tiny grain of that huge fortune. Malan questions why Weiss, a wealthy man, cannot do the honourable thing and make sure that the remainder of Linda’s poverty stricken family can reap the benefits of their father’s master piece.

Malan speaks to Peter Seeger in the documentary about the copyrights of “Wimoweh”. “The big mistake I made was not making sure that my publisher signed a regular songwriters’ contract with Linda. My publisher simply sent Linda some money and copyrighted The Weavers’ arrangement here and sent The Weavers some money,” said Seeger.

When asked about who received the royalties for the song Seeger responded that most of the royalties went to Weiss while he received a small amount which he ordered his publisher to send to Linda’s family. When Linda’s daughters were asked about this money they said that they had received money from the “outside” but rejected the claim that they had been receiving moneys from Seeger through a Jo’burg lawyer called Tucker since the 50’s but only in the early 90’s. It seemed that the daughters were receiving royalties from “Wimoweh” however they were not receiving any royalties from huge revenue “The Lion Sleeps” was generating, this due to George Weiss and his immoral claims to have written the melody.

Jay Siegel says to Malan in A Lion’s Trail, “George David Weiss was the person who actually did write the lyrics to ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight,’ but Solomon Linda is the one who wrote most of the music…”

As Rian Malan’s article In the Jungle is about to be released a tiny but of justice is served to the Linda family. Linda’s daughters receive a check of $12 000 coming from the use of “Wimoweh”. Seeger claims that he was unaware that he was still earning royalties from the song until he received the big check. It seems that instead of sending the money to Soweto, as he had instructed, his publishers had put it in a trust fund.

In 2004 it is with the initial help of Rian Malan that the family decides to sue Disney 1.6 million dollars in composer royalty shares for using the song in The Lion King on the grounds that under South African law the rights now belong to Linda’s family after his death. This case is still pending, however, the company which published Seeger’s “Wimoweh” has admitted that they had not paid any royalties to the Linda family and promised that they would tree thousand dollars a year.

While this issue has not been resolved, by informing the world of the blatant plagiarism of one of the most loved songs of the 20th century we are one step closer to serving justice to the Linda family.

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