Name: Dominique Rollino

Publication: Mail and Guardian

We have all hummed the familiar tune, or imagined a lion, a meerkat and a warthog dancing through the jungle singing the song, and we’ve all watched the movie countless times but what we don’t know is that every time ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ some make millions and others, namely Solomon Linda and his family, receive nothing. Who is Solomon Linda I hear you ask. He is the man behind the creation of this iconic song. He is a man who died penniless and unrecognized in 1962; a mere year after the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” became number one hit worldwide. So, how did a song that originally consisted of just the word ‘Mbube’ evolve into ‘Wimowhe’ and then into the ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ and cause so much anger and controversy? This story must begin with the idea of where the song came from and the results of its popularity will become clearer. Who owns a folk song? That is the age-old question that has surrounded many songs but it was the “The Lion Sings Tonight” that received international acclaim and caused a court case that has continued for years. Aside from this court case, the idea of a complete disregard for Zulu tradition must also be recognized. According to Zulu tradition ‘fasi pathi,’ as the high falsetto that the Zulu women trill in is known as is not allowed to be used by men, and yet Linda made the one word of ‘Mbube’ famous because of the haunting pitch at which he sang it. He made it so famous that men across the world were taking potions in order to achieve the pitch as they copied the song numerous times. It is an accolade to the amazing sound that even though the actual lyrics of the song were altered over the years the pitch at which is was sung was not altered but rather the voices of the singers were. Similarly, the changing of the word ‘Mbube’ occurred because the actual meaning was misinterpreted. When Solomon sang that word the story attached linked to the hunting of the lion and it had happy connotations. However through the joking of international stars that covered the song the meaning evolved from this to ideas about the lion eating humans and eventually the lion sleeping. It changed from ‘Mbube’ to the ever-popular ‘Wimowhe’ and then to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight. As is evident from the number plate of Pete Seeger, one of the first artists to cover the song, ‘Wimowhe’ made him famous. Famous and rich enough to show it on his car. Aside from the disregard of the above-mentioned Zulu traditions the actual issue of the ownership of the song has caused the most controversy and made the ideas of who actually owns songs come to light. It was famously believed that because nobody actually owns a folk song anybody could cover it. However, the artists who first copied the original did not believe that the song was anything but a folk song. They did not know that the song was, in fact, a Solomon Linda original. The song that they were covering had been ‘stolen’ from him through an agreement on a signed piece of paper by a record company that did not care for the artist but rather the royalties they would be receiving from a song that was already incredibly popular in the local communities. After many years of arguing and finger pointing from the international artists as to who was in fact to blame about the theft of the song, it came to light that the one person was benefitting hugely from the song and that was George Weiss. Because he added the lyrics that are used in the modern version he gains all royalties and recognition whenever the song is used. He does not claim to be using the melody written by Seeger when he covered it or the music that was written by Linda for the original, according to him it is an original song by him because nobody owned the folk song he used to make it. Solomon Linda never realised the controversy his song would cause on the day he became exasperated in the studio and wailed out the word ‘Mbube’ just so the song could be done. He died without realising the he was owed millions and that he did not have to live and certainly not die in abject poverty. For him the biggest payment was to know that his music was recognized and enjoyed by his peers and for the traditions of his culture to be sung about and enjoyed. His traditions were not honoured, they ere changed and his family is still living relatively poor. All because of a lion, a warthog and a meerkat dancing through the jungle humming that famous