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We all know it. It was as much a part of our childhood as tooth-fairies, Santa Claus and the illusive sand-man. I, as you may well be wondering, am referring to the infamous track known as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and am about to shatter its illusion as your treacherous guardian did with Santa. You have been lied to. You should have seen this one coming; when did lions reside in Jungles anyway?

The discovery that one of my all-time favourite songs was actually not an original and even worse, stolen from a humble soul in my very back yard lead me to firstly want to hunt down Rian Malan for unearthing the fact that the sound-track to my childhood was an entire farce, but more importantly to address the overwhelming importance of musical identity to an artist.

The story of Solomon Linda, as masterfully written by acclaimed music journalist Rian Malan, tells the tale of a man’s loss at the hands of money hungry powers in the American music industry. In the year of 1939 Linda recorded the magical track, named ‘Mbube’ that was later to be pilfered, laundered, and massacred to become ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’; one of the most renowned songs of the 20th century. Due to poor royalty arrangements and more obviously to the heartless exploitation of an African man in a harsh political environment, Linda did not see even a minute fraction of the profit that his little piece of genius had earned. Although Linda was bereaved of an unimaginable sum that undoubtedly would have made his life considerably better, according to his daughter “he was a happy man.” A legend in the Zulu subculture, he was hailed by strangers in the streets winning contest after contest as word of his talent spread. The man was able to afford himself two wives! To someone who was unaware of the injustices carried out against him this seems a “pretty fine destiny in some respects,” as Malan puts it.  Admittedly this does not come close to resting  aggravated African souls, however, I would like to diverge your attention away from the monetary concept, one that fuelled this profanity in the first place, and draw your minds to a deeper concern, the poaching of a musical man’s entire being, his identity.

The concept around identity, especially a musical one holds many psychological explanations; ramblings with which I will not bore you. What can however be drawn from these ridged academic texts is that artists use their music not only to express their own distinctive views on the world around them but also to formulate and express individual identities. I had high hopes that all who brave the music industry are filled with a burning passion for encapsulating themselves and what they believe in and expressing this through the only manner in which they know how – Music. Surely this is what being a musician is about? Surely the music industry isn’t that warped that fame and fortune receive greater acclaim than the making of music itself? Solomon Linda is one of many who prove that situations are not all so dire, but sadly they are nevertheless part of a ruthless industry devoid of any moral compass. It is, as they say, a dog eat dog world out there.

As consumers of music who seek solace in similarities between us and the artists we come to enjoy, we come to expect a level of authenticity. I will not be the first of my generation to roll my eyes in frustration as my parents point out yet another favourite of mine that was actually sung by some obscure individual forty years ago.  Musicians most often present themselves to people the way they want their audience to see them, yet all too often people are responding to an identity completely removed from the artist performing before them. I choose now to use the words that inflict more damage than streams of curses or a fit of rage or even a slap in the face; I am disappointed. What cuts me even deeper is that it is not just modern pop culture which churns out clones of itself that is guilty of this. Many of the greats who so many identified with, respected and admired, for the musical identity that they created, pirated creative work from others who never received the due credit.

LED ZEPPELIN is sadly a perfect example. “Dazed and Confused” was a track that made it onto the band’s debut album in 1969, a track originally played by Jake Holmes with the same name, chord and lyrics at a show in 1967 where he opened for THE NEW YARDBIRDS. THE NEW YARDBIRDS was the adolescent version of the now LED ZEPPELIN. A humble Holmes sent Page a letter merely asking for acknowledgement, he sadly received no response. It doesn’t end there. In the song “Stairway to Heaven”, which is arguably one of the most influential pieces in rock music, the opening notes were taken almost note-for-note from a song called “Taurus” by SPIRIT. And what do you know? LED ZEPPELIN opened for SPIRIT on their first tour.

Similarly, METALLICA one of the founding fathers of “thrash metal” and easily one of most influential rock bands in the last 30 years seems to have ‘borrowed’ much from BLEAK HOUSE’s “Rainbow Warrior” in their track “Welcome home (Sanitarium)”. “My Apocalypse” finds its roots with THE OFFSPRING and even the track, “End of the Line” resonates clearly with PEARL JAM. These men are gods in the eyes of their fans. They are rock icons who have created a musical identity for themselves, based on someone else. The interesting part about METALLICA’s story is that they are rumoured to be quite open about their acquiring of other artists creative work. This begs one to question the flippant manner in which artists and composers a-like treat something as un-kosher as blatant stealing.

We hear them on the radio, we attend their concerts and more so than anything we revel in the idea that we can relate our own personal identity to the musical identity of a person who so aptly transcribes their ideas into this glorious thing we call music. It is disheartening to realise a musician you so admire is in fact not who you assumed them to be, but is rather some unoriginal replica of a thwarted soul whose identity has been stolen and revamped.

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