by Sarah Farrell

If I had to ask you to hum the tune of a song called “Mbube” you would most likely look at me blankly and say you’d never heard of it…but if I asked to belt out the melody of “The Lion Sleeps tonight” you’d get your friends to chant the ‘wimoweh’ chorus while you gave it your best shot. What you most likely don’t know is that these two songs are one and the same (apart from the miss pronounced Zulu word ‘uyimbube’ and added lyrics about lions from jungles.) Solomon Linda was “Mbube’s” proud creator- A humble man who lived in South Africa his entire life and whose talent was exploited for millions. From its creation, “Mbube” was destined to be taken from Linda and transformed by so many artists, that  it would be eternalised in a global culture but Solomon Linda would quickly be forgotten.

Now, more than seventy years since the conception of “Mbube”, most people still remain ignorant to the fact that a world favourite song is stained by deception, greed and thievery.  This made me wonder and begin to worry. How many other injustices had taken place? How many other artists, like Linda, had been exploited for their lack of social position, wealth and knowledge? Unable to let this slide, I did a little digging. But, believe me; they say ignorance is bliss for a reason.

I was brought up on the music of 80s pop and musical theatre. My mom had a thing for Madonna and one of my dad’s all time favourite modern composers was Andrew Lloyd Webber. What I didn’t know until now is that both of these “prolific” superstars are tainted by copy-right infringement scandals, lies and unoriginality. That’s some earth shattering stuff to discover.

Andrew Lloyd Webber has been hailed for his genius in the musical theatre genre. He has six Tony awards, an Oscar and his Broadway show Phantom of the Opera is the longest running musical in history. The question is does he even deserve any of it? Lloyd Webber has been discovered to have reworked many classical music pieces and passed them off as his own. The song”The Music of the night” from Phantom of the opera was partly a ripped off and reworked version of Puccini’s “La Fanciualla Del West”. A law suit was leveled against Lloyd Webber by the Puccini estate, but Lloyd Webber settled with them out-of-court. “I don’t know how to love him” the infamous piece from Jesus Christ Superstar also turned out to be a‘re-modeled’ work of a violin concerto by Mendelssohn. In addition to this, Webber was accused of stealing his opening of “Phantom of the Opera” from Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.” Floyd frontman Roger Waters simply retaliated by saying: ‘life’s too long to bother with suing fucking Lloyd Webber.’ Pink Floyd did, however, write a tell-all line into their “It’s a miracle”;

‘Lloyd Webber’s awful stuff/Runs for years and years/An earthquake hits the theatre/But the operetta lingers/Then the piano lid comes down/And breaks his fucking fingers.’

Queen of pop-Madonna, hardly needs an introduction. She is arguably the most famous living female artist in the world. However, she has also been accused of being the greatest musical fraud of all time. She has been criticised for stealing melodies, lyrics, concepts, album covers and even music videos from lesser known artists. One of the largest scandals surrounding Madonna’s copyright infringement was when she stole Ingrid Chavez’s concept and lyrics for her song “Justify my Love” only changing one line from Chavez’s original. Madonna was also publicly accused of stealing the music from “She comes in Colours” by Da Capo for the riff of her song “Beautiful strangers.”  The list of copyright infringement accusations surrounding Madonna’s name, even if unproven, show a general trend of  deception which has been going on since her “like a virgin” days.

Sadly, it doesn’t end there. Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Metallica, Shakira and The Black Eyed Peas are some of the other many known artists who have stolen songs and passed them off as their own. Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” was a revolutionary, history making tune with the most recognisable and famous guitar riff to this day. It’s not so revolutionary when the riff is an out-right rip off of a jazz standard called “Maria Moite” by Astrud Gilberto and Gil Evans.

Sadly, it seems, that even the most unsuspecting artists are willing to squander their artistic integrity and morality for the sake of a money making tune. The unfairness of it all is that real musicality and originality are sidelined for the sake of it, whilst others make millions from something that is not their intellectual property. One can argue that it has been going on since the Baroque era of composers like Bach and Vivaldi who all reworked and rearranged the work of others. In terms of today, Music mash-ups have been emerging as a very popular genre amongst the youth. It is becoming more and more accepted to sample sounds and mix different songs into one. Famous artists constantly cover songs that aren’t there own. So where does one draw the line?

When it comes down to it, there is a difference between creating your own version of a song if you accept that it isn’t yours and simply fooling your fans into believing something is your own when it isn’t. Allowing those in lesser fortunate situations to suffer for your fame is simply not acceptable at any level.  Famous artists have a code of integrity that needs to be followed in order to be respected.  Artists like Lloyd Webber, Madonna, Led Zeppelin and Deep purple are all superstars who I profoundly respected and looked up to. However, once you discover the truth of their indiscretions, your perception of them will forever be tainted by the shattering knowledge that you were fooled by them.