Tag Archive: mbube


The exploitation of a black Zulu man in Apartheid South Africa is not an unbelievable story or a new one. What makes Solomon Linda’s story so different? He could have been rich. His family could have been rich, and he improvised, probably, the most famous and well-known melody in the whole world.

“Mbube”, sung by Solomon Linda and his a cappella group The Evening Birds, was recorded in 1939, in the first recording studio in South Africa, owned by Eric Gallo who formed Gallo Records. Better known as the “Lion Sleeps Tonight”, nobody in that room could have imagined that this melody would go on to be recorded around 160 times, of three different versions, be featured in 13 movies and musicals, 6 commercials and 60 years of airplay. How much of that money did the Linda family see? A measly, $12, 000. What an outrage! What an injustice! Right?

Technically, that is $12 000 that the Linda family, by law, were not entitled to. Solomon Linda sold his song, “Mbube”, and all the rights to the song, to Gallo Records for 10 shillings. When “Mbube” became The Weavers’ “Wimoweh”, Gallo traded the copyright in return for administering the song in places such as South Africa and Rhodesia. Even though legally Solomon Linda was not cheated in any way, it becomes a question of morality. All that happened, because Solomon Linda was black. He died in poverty because he was black. He was exploited and forgotten, because he was black. In hindsight, the Linda family deserve to benefit from the creation of their father, which white American men have been benefitting from since 1950.

Journalist, Rian Malan, made it his business to pursue this issue, to help those white American men remember to whom they owed their careers. In his article, In the Jungle, published in the late 90’s, Malan tells us of his journey into the entanglement of copyrights, covers and publishing organisations, in order to figure out how and why this injustice occurred.

Malan traced the history of the song and discovered how the song got to America, and became “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. He felt strongly that the Linda family should benefit from their fathers genius, based on the context of the situation, which enabled the stealing of his creativity and the rights to his creation. Malan wrote letters to both George David Weiss, the man who co-mutated “Mbube” into “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, and to Larry Richmond, president of The Richmond Organisation, that published The Weavers’ version of “Mbube”, “Wimoweh”. In a lengthy letter describing the little, that Linda gained from his artistry and how he was a victim of injustice, Malan sat back hoping that their moral conscience would propel them forward to do something about it.

It did not. However, Pete Seeger, from the Weavers (who was always aware of Solomon Linda’s involvement in the writing of the song) attempted back in 1950, to ensure that the Linda sisters would receive songwriter royalties. While Seeger believed the Linda sisters were receiving these royalties, they say that they did not receive anything other than a few breadcrumbs over the space of a decade. After Seeger received a $12, 000 check for the use of “Wimoweh” in a US commercial, he realised that he had been receiving royalties from the song all along, when he thought his share of “Wimoweh” royalties were diverted into a charitable trust. In realising this, he demanded TRO send the money to the Linda sisters. This sparked a series of events that now ensure the Linda sisters are receiving songwriter royalties for all their fathers creation of the most popular melody to come out of Africa and make its’ way around the world.

CEO of Johnnic Entertainment (parent of Gallo Records) Paul Jenkins announced they would handle the affairs of the Linda sisters, and organised one of the best copyright lawyers, Dr. Owen Dean, to handle their case. What was the outcome?

In February 2006, the parties involved reached a settlement. The Linda sisters would receive royalties for past use of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” as well as for future uses of the song. Legally, Solomon Linda is now co-composer of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, and the song is recognised as derived from “Mbube”. The Linda sisters are now able to sustain themselves economically, and will most likely be able to do so into the future.

It is safe to say that without the investigations of Rian Malan, none of this would have happened. It most certainly is tragic that it even took that long for someone to recognise and make a noise about the fact that the songwriter credits belonged to Solomon Linda. How many other black men were exploited and had their creative efforts stolen from them? Plenty, probably. This is just one case in many. At least it is happy conclusion for the Linda sisters, and the legendary melody is credited to its’ rightful owner, Solomon Linda.

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‘Oh, that’s fine. I will just quickly download it’ is what I heard from a friend yesterday. We were talking about the new pop sensation Lana Del Rey, and how great her new album ‘Born to Die’ was. When I told her to go out and buy it as soon as possible, she gave me that response.My first reaction was to slap my hand over her mouth, scared that the FBI was hiding in the bushes behind us, ready to pounce on her. Instead I was caught with an anxious expression on my face, and she mocking me. I just couldn’t believe how casual she was at the idea of ‘just’ quickly downloading it.

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The Pirate Bay Welcome Image

I have never been one for music collections, like some of my older friends. They take a pride in collecting these vast amounts of CD’s and albums, labelling and sorting them to perfection and displaying them in some monstrous teak and glass thing in their rooms. I could never afford that. Instead I buy my

favourite classics, like some of the best blues artists or oldies from my child hood like Pink or, yes, even Britney Spears. I do digitize these, and share them with my friends via Ipods and mix CDs.But it seems some people are taking ‘digitizing’ to a whole new level, a level I have yet to really begin playing in. Everyone has become music Pirates.

This ‘Pirate Generation’, is increasingly resorting to ‘I will just quickly download it’ as a way to get hold of not only music, but films, software, games and even books! It is as if going to the story and actually buying the product is a ‘waste of money’. I can’t see why showing your appreciation for something, buy spending money on it, is a waste. I don’t know if this generation understands that they are destroying the money legs that the music industry stands on.

There is an incredible irony in Piracy. By illegally downloading your favourite artist for free, you are causing your favourite artist to starve. Ok, maybe not ‘starve’ but you are probably not helping them make any money, allowing them to carry on doing what they, and you, love.

What causes people to download illegally? I understand that there is a level of convenience in downloading, where you don’t have to go out and buy something, and that it is for free, so you are not spending money, but what I don’t understand is why this Pirate Generation has not realised the implications, and great irony, of their downloading; they are ruining the integrity of the music they love.

In 2000, the internationally recognised South African journalist Rian Malan wrote an article titled ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ for the May edition of American Rolling Stone. The article detailed the beginning of one of the most recognised tunes of the 20th century, ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. The article began tracking it through from its first recording by Solomon Linda, a Zulu singer, to its adaption by 60s ‘Doo-wop’ bands, like The Weavers and The Tokens. And what’s the crux of the article? Malan reveals that Linda never received any royalties for the song, not a single penny.

The creator of the iconic song ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, died without nothing but a roof over his head, 4 daughters to feed and a destitute life to leave as a legacy. This is the great and unjust crime in the music industry, which to some extent every Pirate perpetuates. By illegally downloading music, the Pirate is perpetuating a situation where the artist is left without any thing from his art and he, like Linda, is left in a situation of destitute rejection.

This sad story, however, does have a happy ending. His song became wildly popular after it was adopted by The Weavers and The Tokens, making it a household name and international anthem. Ultimately it seems like the ‘piracy’ of Linda’s song, meant it was able to be heard on a mucher larger scale.

Many artists are choosing to have their work available for free download on the massively popular illegal downloading website, ThePiratebay. After putting their debut album on the site, Monster Cat justified this move by stating,

‘Music is meant to be shared, and heard, by the people. Artists should let go of their work, and make it available for everyone.’

Many other musicians and bands are similar to Monster Cat; by uploading their tracks on Youtube and Myspace there music becomes just as easily accessible, and illegally obtainable. This could be, alternative to Monster Cat’s justification, a marketing ploy instead of a bid for the open sharing of music. Where the band receives, in many cases much needed, publicity and recording deals – thus being a life saver for all the little Indie bands out there.

Maybe this downloading thing is not altogether bad, since the music industry would still keep on making money with advertising or stage performances and it is not as if any of the artists my friend downloads are starving. But we just cannot ignore the injustice against Linda, or the fact that these artists receive nothing real from their fans.

It seems Linda’s terrible example dupes the bid for piracy, since no one should go unrewarded for genius, no matter how ‘famous’ their song gets it.

While we finished our lunch after the profession of my friend’s illegal ways, I couldn’t help but tell her what happened to Linda. She seemed taken aback, as if this was the first time she could see what it meant to be a pirate, what the affect would be on the artists she was ‘just quickly downloading’.  I don’t know if it meant anything to her, or whether she would stop downloading music, but what I do know is that this Pirate Generation is changing the way music is being shared, be it for the good or the bad.

Tainted Superstars

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.

After countless meetings with lawyers, record executives and journalists, the Linda family will finally receive some royalties for their father’s masterpiece, Mbube.  However, one question remains unresolved -who will pay them reparations for the years they spent in poverty?

The narrative has been that they were poor because their father, composer of one of the most widely recorded melodies of all time, was never recognised or compensated for his brilliance. I am sure many journalists thought themselves geniuses for recognising this “irony” but, truthfully speaking the Linda sisters did not languish in poverty because their father had not received royalty cheques. The Linda sisters remained impoverished because they had, just like their father, been disenfranchised by that thing that happened (as if by magic) called apartheid. That thing that most South African’s-including those who would later defend Linda- let happen.

In his seminal piece, In the Jungle, Malan chronicles the genesis of Mbube from its inception as a masictanya melody to its most profitabele, and final reprise in the Lion King as In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle. The characters and charactures are terrific-from duplicitous record executives to morally compelled lawyers, and jiving labourers. It reads like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking bird and would, without a doubt, make a blockbuster biopic.

However, the only  mistake Malan makes is that he talks much about the  villains and the  antagonists, and even “the local black bourgeoisie” who had a distaste for Linda’s style of music,but there is little discussion of Linda‘s life as a migrant worker. It was, after all, this life that had inspired songs like Yetulisgqoko” (“Take off your hat”, Gallo GE 887) which recall treatment by Pass Office officials. The writer forgets to mention that proverbial backdrop against which all of this took place, and the quiet protagonist who only reveals their true identity in the end-that white South African.

For many, it is all about those people from overseas who did that bad thing to Linda, but how does one imagine that a man who did not have his human rights protected would have had music rights to anything. It would be wrong to say that no exploitation took place on the part of Gallo Records or RCA or even American composer David Weiss. None the less, the fact is that not a single South African who could really do anything acted for Linda until years later, much like Howie Richmond and Al Brackman, whom had nothing “preventing him from making a claim on his (Linda) behalf”.

The only thing worse than the blame-game, is the let’s-shift-the-blame-game. Why was it Richmond or Brackman’s responsibility to ensure that Linda was protected? Malan himself describes how “even though they had no legal obligation”, the two should have acted on Linda’s behalf. The same could be said for the millions of South African’s who failed to act against that unjust system. It was that system which meant that Linda could have no equitable recourse. Apparently, allowing the exploitation of black people is only bad when other people do it. In fact the only time white South Africans were involved in the misfortune was when they came to the rescue.

Malan applauds that “young Afrikanner lawyer” who years later “devoted countless hours” to correcting this injustice and without whom none of the recourse would have been possible. We cannot deny that what the young man did was “good” but it was not a good deed. Why is it that for pale people it is “the administering of justice” or “the honourable thing to do”, but for the brown it is seen as a kind deed. In reality this was due legal action which someone had to initiate eventually, and work that was rightfully Linda’s. Even all those eloquent articles that emerged from the controversy were not acts of kindness they were good journalistic practices-uncovering the truth at any cost. There is  a sense that what had been done was morally outstanding in one way or another, like the white lady who so “honourably” called the police when her neighbour, Chris Hani, had been gunned down in his driveway.

In light of this apparent act of kindness, why should South African’s pay reparations to the Linda family for the years they spent in paucity. Why should we ask where Malan was at the time of the crime? It is not as though he was responsible for brokering the dodgy deals that meant Linda would never receive full compensation for his work.

The answer is patently obvious and yet thus far no writer, definitely not Malan, has been willing to accept this truth.  No South African has been willing to accept that whether they were sunbathing at luxury resorts, rubbing shoulders with those sinister “architects of apartheid”, or very simply getting on with their lives, they were part of the reason why Linda died almost as penniless as he was when he was born. His children could have had better prospects for their lives. They could have been allowed to get an education, and could have had the chance to make something of even the little they had. Maybe that $12 000 would even have been the pittance that it really is or they would have made the claim themselves. In this alternate plot, all they would have been fighting for was the memory of their father.

We would like to believe that this account has been addressed, but the story of Solomon Linda, forces us to visit the possibility that today is yesterdays chronic hangover-throbbing and uncomfortable.Stories do not begin with prefaces or end with post-scripts; they extend beyond those pages and take on a new form and a life of their own. If you are a Malan, or even Hendrickson they may haunt you. These are not characters, they are human lives-they are the culmination of actions or the failure to act. These are trajectories that no amount of writing or reparations could ever undo. It is all very simply, too little too late.

“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.

The Mystery of the Jungle

Inez Patel

 

I first heard this song when I was about 5 years old. Sitting in front of the television, young and carefree, I gazed at bright images of friendly lions, laughing hyenas and wise baboons. What did not cross my mind, and has not crossed many people’s minds, was that this song had in fact been around longer than I had; it had travelled the world more than I had and had been impacted by many other people. The truth is The Lion Sleeps Tonight is neither an original Disney song nor creation of any of the other American groups that performed it.  The question is how did a song by a traditional Zulu man in South Africa titled Mbube come to be the commercialized tune that it is today?

The story starts with Solomon Linda, born in 1909 in Zululand, South Africa. Inspired by American Jazz syncopation, Linda mixed this into his traditional Zulu songs which he performed at weddings and special occasions. In the mid-thirties, Linda and friends headed into Johannesburg to find work. Singing on the weekends, they managed to obtain quite a reputation for themselves and so a few years later The Evening Birds emerged. They were “a very cool urban act” – Rian Malan. Always sharply dressed in matching pinstriped suits and bowler hats, The Evening Birds had the town talking. It wasn’t just their accentuated dress code that brought them the attention though; their music initiated the take-off of isicathamiya music. Isicathamiya music is characterised by a lead falsetto voice (has the texture of a female voice) sung over a group of bass voices. With this, The Evening Birds achieved a harmonious blend of voices that also had a sense of traditional African choral music. In addition to their dress code and style of singing, The Evening Birds had one more element that helped capture the attention of the crowds. This was the tightly choreographed foot stampings that accompanied the singing and when done perfectly in unison, made the floors shake.

The Evening Birds had always been a highly influential group. Their innovation of isicathamiya style was followed by the likes of Paul Simon in his collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  Their song Homeless shows a clear influence of isicathamiya in terms of it’s a capella singing; Paul Simon’s lead falsetto voice over the rest of the bass voices. However, the original title of the song was Mbube. Linda’s Mbube influenced many in its journey across the globe, but in a way in which nearly all acknowledgment of Solomon Linda was overlooked. The Evening Birds first recorded Mbube in 1939. They recorded at Eric Gallow’s studio which was the first recording studio in sub-saharan Africa. The song is said to have been inspired by a childhood memory of The Evening Birds’ in which they were chasing a lion; the word ‘mbube’ means lion.

What is it about this song that made it so remarkable? When recording it, the first few attempts were rather weak but once they had finished, Griffiths Motsieloa, the first black producer of the country working with Gallo, knew that they had created something of significant value. The song’s underlying chant of the isicathamiya bass singers accompanied by Linda’s improvised falsetto yodelling created a distinct musical creation. By 1948, Mbube had sold about 100 000 copies. Yet somehow all that Linda received was 10 shillings from the studio. This is then where the copyright issues came into play. Once shipped overseas, the tune was heard in about 160 different recorded versions, played in about 13 movies, a few TV commercials and played endlessly on the radio.

Pete Seeger, was a banjo player in a folk group called The Weavers. When The Weavers listened to the song they heard the word ‘wimoweh’ instead of ‘mbube’ and so Mbube became Wimoweh. Seeger most certainly managed to stay true to the song’s style of singing as he wailed his heart out to capture what Solomon Linda had achieved. Rian Malan noted how Wimoweh was “by far the edgiest song in the Weavers’ set”. Of course the song was embellished and Westernised with blaring trombones and trumpets as well as singing strings to wave through the melody. Seeger did however acknowledge Linda, tracked him down and sent him a $1000 and further instructed for the same to be done with all future payments. Turns out that Linda’s family did not receive the payments until much later.

Following this, the song was further adopted by others such as jazz musician Jimmy Dorsey, Yma Sumac and The Kingston Trio who managed to keep it on the charts for as long as three years. The major revamp of the yodelled tune came about when The Tokens took interest in it. The Tokens were a boy group from Brooklyn. They knew the song but producers wanted it to have a more modern feel with lyrics. So Wimoweh was sent off to George Weiss, a prominent name in the music writing industry. The dismantling of the song resulted in the replacing of the ‘primitive’ howling with “In the jungle, the mighty jungle” as the words to carry the original melody. When recorded, the further addition of an orchestra, drums, guitars, percussion and an opera singer were recruited. With this, The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens reached Number One on the national charts. From this, it eventually came to be the song most people know from Disney’s The Lion King and thus being a song that Rian Malan deems as “a song the whole world knows”.

That is the story of the evolution of Mbube in terms of its musical developments, however, another significant aspect to look at is the copyright and royalty issues. In 1939, when Linda and The Evening Birds recorded the song they walked away with ten shillings because at that time, according to Rian Malan, “no one got royalties, and copyright was unknown”. Joe Mogotsi of The Manhattan Brothers also mentions in A Lion’s Trail, a documentary on the story of Solomon Linda’s Mbube directed by Francois Verster, that in that time “black people were really not allowed to have a royalty”.  The ten shillings that Linda got was for handing over the rights of the song to Gallo. Following this, Gallo sold the rights over to TRO even before The Weavers got a hold of it. For The Weavers, this was just a song from some man in South Africa that had never been copyrighted. Therefore the song was pretty much free from any responsibilities and was thus attributed to a Paul Campbell who in fact turned out to be merely an alias. It was common practice at that time for many songs in the public domain to be claimed by fake names so as not to be directly embarrassed if the song did not succeed.

Following this, Wimoweh was taken on by two RCA producers through The Tokens and they found out that Paul Campbell was an alias and that in fact the song did not really belong to anyone. So when The Lion Sleeps Tonight was released it was under George Weiss and the RCA producers’ names. Things did not go so well when one of Seeger’s publishers heard the unforgettable melody in The Tokens’ arrangement and then demanded that all publishing rights be returned to him. Yet in the end, to keep good business Seeger’s publisher allowed Weiss and allies to keep the writer royalties for the song. Therefore the new copyright agreed to give credit of the song Lion to Paul Campbell.

In all this, the name Solomon Linda was forgotten. In 1962, Linda passed away without having received anything close to the money and recognition that he deserved. His family were left in poverty, not even able to pay for a gravestone to be placed. Once journalist Rian Malan became interested in the story, he tracked down a number of individuals involved in the royalties that the family were supposed to be receiving. This included the family’s lawyer, Larry Richmond (president of TRO) and Harold Leventhal (dealt with The Weavers). In the end he discovered that the Linda family were only receiving 12.5% of the Wimoweh royalties and only 1% of The Lion Sleeps Tonight revenues. Eventually a large lawsuit emerged with the heads of TRO fighting Weiss and Co. over who gets the copyright of the song. In the end TRO tried to redeem themselves in urging for the Linda family to get their deserved recognition. The case ended with Weiss winning the copyrights to the song provided that 10% of the royalties went to the Linda family.

In all fairness, Linda did hand over the rights of the song to Eric Gallo all those years ago and so legally his family were not completely entitled to anything. However it does seem like a happy and just end to a very long story that his family get money from the royalties as some form of acknowledgment of what Linda created for the music world. Now, there is great hope that when my children are watching Disney’s The Lion King and singing that remarkable tune, I’ll be sure to tell them that that song was in fact a song by one of our very own South Africans.

BY GRAY KOTZE

The financial exploitation of Africa and its people is nothing new. It is an intrinsically morphed aspect of Africa’s pre, and post, colonial history. From the exploitative labour of slavery in the Atlantic slave trade, and the colonial mineral-profiteering of Africa’s resources, to the abusive migrant labour system during apartheid, Africa’s monetary malfeasance by big-business capitalists has been well documented. However, there is an aspect of Africa’s exploitation that has been largely ignored by the pages of the past: musical exploitation. Case in point: Solomon Linda – the author of one of the most artistically and financially rich tunes that the world has ever known.

Rian Malan’s exposé of Linda’s financial mistreatment in his article, ‘In the Jungle’, estimates Linda’s lost royalties for his song, ‘Mbube’, otherwise known as ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, as being in the region of at least $15 million. And what was Linda paid in 1939 when he first composed this song; a track that would go on to be covered by hundreds of artists, from R.E.M to The Weavers, and used in films such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and – of course – The Lion King. A laughable 10 Shillings. After Malan’s piece was published in Rolling Stone, and Linda’s financial injustice at the hands of the record company Goliath’s was brought to light, Linda’s penurious family began to receive some slender monetary reward – albeit only a glimpse of the millions in royalties which the song rightfully earned. A consolation prize for Linda, as he died without the money to afford a gravestone, but proved a welcome reward for Linda’s three remaining daughters.

Although this case did come to a modestly happy end, the question of why it took almost 70 years for justice (or rather an inkling of justice) to prevail remains. Perhaps the most important issue that Linda’s case arises however is that African musicians, and indeed musicians on a global scale, have been, and continue to be, exploited by the corporate controllers of the record landscape even today. Although many assume that recorded artists of now, and yesteryear, are amongst the richest in the world, this is not the case. The plight of musicians, and their exploitation, is still a genuine concern. Hopefully Linda’s case helps to drag the public’s awareness of this issue in to the light.

Although financial mistreatment by conglomerate record labels is still a concern today, the issue has certainly improved over time, and is a far cry from the commercial mistreatment that artists such as Linda had to endure. Joe Mogotsi of Manhattan Brothers – an Afro-jazzy, 1940s vocal group – and a contemporary of Linda described how unfairly black South Africans were treated in pecuniary matters by the record label kings, Gallo, during the formative stage of recording contracts. “When we asked at Gallo, we were told that black people are not allowed to have royalties.”

In order to produce a recording in the early 1940s, black South Africans had to sign their financial lives away. Mogotsi told of the implications of the record deals, where by signing a contract “you said take me to the gallows, and hang me.” It was in this environment that Linda sold his royalties-soul, which ensured that his millions were to find a home at the looming, American record kingdoms. “It’s not a question of it being illegal”, says Malan – who brought the story into the public eye – “it’s just unfair.”

Many other musicians, not only African, have also been manipulated unfairly like this by music moguls. After Jimi Hendrix’s death, his heirs were left to work lowly jobs while his discography generated millions of dollars a year for corporate-fireball Universal Music Group (UMG). Florence Ballard, a member of The Supremes, died an early death, supported only by welfare money, after UMG halted possible solo career earnings by banning her from publically mentioning her involvement with The Supremes, or her recordings for Motown. UMG still legally own her catalogue to this day.

Many other examples exist of artists who were financially steamrolled by powerful record labels, such as Collective Soul’s song ‘Shine’ – the number one Album Rock Song of 1994 on the Billboard charts – for which they earned almost nothing. Or TLC, the best-selling female group of all time, who declared bankruptcy after their minimal income failed to match their bills. Or even Willie Dixon, who Led Zeppelin lyrically stole from for ‘Whole Lotta Love’ – which remains one of the most popular rock songs of all time. The list continues.

So then; what will bring about a fairer treatment of musicians? Courtney Love, who wrote a ‘Letter to Recording Artists’ in the early 2000s, felt that a call for a union for label musicians was necessary. This letter highlighted the nominal percentage of earnings that musicians received from ‘the big 5’ record companies, and cited a need for a singular union which would battle for performer’s benefits. This notion of an all encompassing trade union which represents the rights of its affiliated artists is worth some thought. Although South Africa does have a musical union in the form of the Association of Independent Record Companies (AIRCO), it certainly does not include all recorded local musicians; which is something which should be addressed.

Although much has changed in the industry since the recording of ‘Mbube’, the underlying theme of musicians’ financial exploitation has remained the same. Today the biggest ‘exploiter’ in the music industry is however not the record companies – although they too play a role – but the internet, and musical piracy. This online foe currently represents a new exploitative figure to African, and world, musicians alike. However, it also represents opportunity; opportunities for local artists to break free of the big business boys, cut out the middle-man, and make music’s money independently. In this 2.0-world of business, new distribution methods have been made possible. Hopefully, due to these new possibilities, financial success for local musical talents will increase, and minimise the exploitation of future Solomon Linda’s.

The Identity Crisis

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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.

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.

souled out

George Weiss is perceived by many as a white devil in that he used the idea of a man from the poverty stricken Africa as a money making venture. He took the original song by Solomon Linda, presented to him by The Tokens, and changed the sound and lyrics of it. The content of the original song was placed in the childhood of the singing group Linda was part of, Linda Solomon and the early birds. It was a narrative about them being boys chasing the lions away from their fathers’ cattle. Weiss changed it to a song about a lion sleeping in a mighty jungle. Linda did not see much of the benefits of the song that fell from his mind onto his lungs and was projected out in a seamless falsetto. This could be accredited to the uncertainty around the copyright issues of the song. Where Linda died in poverty not seeing the fruits of his song, Weiss rose from his metaphorical ashes and made the song a widespread hit.

While that is a good argument to go by, Weiss is painted with unpleasant colours because his actions are seen as an injustice to Linda and his family through the lens of morality. I agree that too the extent of his music career he lacks a soul, and on an ethical level should perhaps feel bad about his choices that wronged in Solomon in however many ways. I would like to suggest that the music business (business being the operative word here) isn’t about ensuring that your moral compass is always facing north. It is a money making business which seeks to do just while providing entertainment by any means possible.

Weiss took Linda’s song and gave it modern appeal. He took something that was generationally relevant and gave it a contemporary feel for it to be exposed to a broader audience. He adapted it and added an element of timelessness so that Linda’s song would be known to generations to come. This generation includes me. I remember gathering with my brother religiously once a week in my mom’s room to watch the ultimate Disney movie, The Lion King. I could quote every line and sing along to every song. I would cry each time I saw Mufasa lost grip of the branch falling to his death into the stampeding cattle and get excited when Nala and Simba ended up together regardless of the fact that I had seen it seven days prior. I would experience the same joy every time the warthog and meercat would talk in jest and sing in perfect unity. I distinctly remember the first time I heard the adaption of Linda’s song as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. Timon and Pumbaa’s a cappella rendition still reverberates in my skull as I recall the scene where they are walking in the forest happily bobbing and singing away as with Timon getting carried away in wailing while Pumbaa goes off trail and gets lost. This sort of exposure of the song is not likely to have been possible had it not been adapted to encompass an audience of children and adults alike.

No obligation to Linda was required from Weiss in accrediting or acknowledging him for the use of the idea of his song. If Weiss was to do so it would be voluntary. People view it as an injustice based on morality and ethics, yet business is about churning out good music as well as making money. Which he did. A lot of it. A contract was not drawn up between Linda and Gallo records or with anyone else that whose version of Linda’s song was made which makes sense considering the context of the marginalized and oppressed position of black people, highlighted in this industry. The extent of the copyright was a Linda’s name and the song title on a 78-rmp record. Hardly anything legal. Weiss was therefore not legally bound by any agreement spoken or otherwise. He simply saw an opportunity and took initiative. He made use of the resources within his reach. It may be argued that it was at the expense of an innocent man who should have been given that same amount of exposure, but Weiss just did what he knew best.

As for Linda’s family: they did not do much except be related to him, and even that should be attributed to nature. His riches, or lack thereof, were passed onto them by virtue of the fact that they share a blood line and a surname, not because they earned it. One cannot but wonder that had the contestation around Linda and royalties owed unto him not occurred would they know any different and cared.

Linda did get some form of acknowledgment for his work which was not a requirement but was done out of moral code and courtesy. It could have also been done to add to a gimmick where American artists would be seen working with an authentic piece from Africa. This would add to the anticipation and growing of the song. Weiss was simply doing what he was getting paid for. As much as many regard George Weiss as unjust riddled with no morals, I argue that the consideration of that would lose his true intent: to be proactive in his decisions and make a success out of a song that would have possibly just been a passing fad (with its lifespan lasting as long as the Weavers success) or just remained a part of oral tradition in Africa.

The original “mbube” was adapted to a contemporary version for the benefit of the music sphere as well as George Weiss’ career. It also exposed the song to the American population, where the entertainment industry was and still is booming. That is where it ultimately became timeless. By including “the lion sleeps tonight” in movies such as The Lion King and Ace Ventura, both popular at different times and to different audiences, it defied time and is still a familiar tune amongst my generation. In an industry where songs have the tendency to be fads he was able to take a song, even birthed from another man’s mind, and adapted to one of the most used and most sung songs of the 20th century.