Tag Archive: The Lion Sleeps Tonight

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.


‘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.


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.

The Mystery of the Jungle

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.


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


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.

Finders, Keepers

By: Tendani Mulaudzi

The words resonate in my mind like a bad song that is stuck in my head: ‘finders, keepers’. Some of my traumatic childhood experiences that I will always remember quite vividly involved the speaking of these words; never by me, of course, but rather by a mean peer. The situations always went along the lines of the following: I lose a sweet. I look everywhere for it and I am very upset by the fact that it is probably gone forever. One of the girls in my class finds a sweet just like mine (because it is mine) and proceeds to unwrap it. Like something out of a movie, I run towards her in what feels like slow motion and demand her to give it back to me. She simply replies, “Finders, keepers!”

It’s safe to say that this is similar to the way that Solomon Linda and his family probably felt when “Mbube” was stolen from them: cheated, robbed. Comparing losing a sweet to losing a creative entity such as a song is a terrible comparison, but my point has been made. For the 6 year old me and Solomon Linda, our feelings concerning our specific conflicts matched.

Solomon Linda, a Zulu tribesman, wrote a song that some say changed the world. I first heard it when I was about 1 and half years old, although I was probably only singing along to it 2 years later. The song was featured in one of my favourite movies, a classic that remains one of my best to this day, The Lion King. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, as it is now called, is a song that I will never forget, no matter how long I don’t hear it for. However, I had absolutely no idea that a Zulu from South Africa was the original composer of the song until about two weeks ago. For 18 years, I have been deceived into thinking that an American wrote the song from scratch. 18 years of giving credit to someone for something they hardly had any part in is a rather alarming.

The first thing I felt was pure shock when I found out. How could these people do that, just take something that didn’t belong to them and keep it as their own? After this appalling information had set in, I asked myself, “Can you blame them?”

The song “Mbube” first landed in the hands of an American in 1948. These hands belonged to Pete Seeger, a folklore singer and at that time, part of a band called Woody Guthrie. The record of the song that he listened to was the original by Solomon Linda and his band, The Evening Birds. Seeger kept the entire song the same, except he misinterpreted a word that was repetitively sang throughout the song. Instead of “uyimbube”, Seeger heard the word “awimoweh”.

Cutting a long story short, in 1950, Seeger and his band the Weavers made the big time with their new record, which included the new “Mbube”, now called “Wimoweh”. Other than the name, the song hadn’t changed much. The Weavers just added a “finger-popping rhythm” which made it more accustomed for white people.

I must admit, I feel a bit of sympathy towards Pete Seeger’s part to play in the commercializing of “Wimoweh”. He was given ten records that no one else wanted, and found a song that would be great to sing. He wasn’t very well off, and could do with a little push in the right direction. The song landed in his possession at just the right time for him. In later years, it was clear that Pete Seeger did not want any of the profit made from “Wimoweh”. He acknowledged that it was not his song; it belonged to a man in South Africa named Solomon Linda. He was one of the few that did not want to be credited for something he was not responsible for.

Therefore, I cannot blame Pete Seeger. He was a man that needed to make a living, and all he needed “Wimoweh” for was to get his career going; he did not want the song to define his career and he certainly did not want to make his living off of the profits of that song alone.

It is not Pete Seeger who was the problem. It was the people who came onto the scene of “Wimoweh” later. George Weiss is a person we can blame quite a bit. George Weiss wrote the words, “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.” He added lyrics consisting of ten words turned the song into something that could fit the pop genre a little more than it did, which, to him, made him the original composer. According to him, Linda only composed the “uyimbube” lyric of the song.

As one would guess, seeing as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is more or less the most famous song in the world, Weiss has made millions from the royalties of the song. It wasn’t until years later, when he was forced to acknowledge that Linda had a part to play in the composition of the song, that he sent Linda’s family $12 000, which equalled 10%, of the royalties. 10%, when Linda was responsible for at least 80% of the product that apparently belonged to Weiss? Again, this is anything but impressive.

I have tried to put myself in Weiss’s shoes and asked myself why he would claim so much of the royalties of the song, when he already had enough money to last him a lifetime. Greed, he had plenty of that, but what he lacked was simple humanity. When I heard the story of Solomon Linda, how he died a pauper, without a tombstone on his grave as his family could not afford it, my heart broke. How was it possible for George Weiss to lie there luxuriously amongst his millions and not think of the rightful owner of these millions and his family, who had absolutely nothing?

There are a few conclusions I have come to. To some Americans, Africa is like a mythical place to them. It seems far and foreign, their paths would never cross. Maybe this is what Weiss thought of Solomon Linda. Maybe he thought there was no way that Linda’s family would ever find out about the song and his claims, since, to him, Africa was so distant and disconnected from America. After all, Weiss is one of the gullible people that still, to this day, are under the impression that the song is a tribute to the process of hunting a lion. He probably did not doubt this perception of the song as soon as he heard it. You cannot blame them for their pure ignorance.

He probably also thought, “Finders, keepers” when he stole the song and its ideas directly from the Tokens and indirectly from Solomon Linda. Since he found it, and made it sound better than it did originally, it was his. Why praise anyone else for the song when he made it what it is today?

The only reasons I can come up with basically link to the idea that George Weiss is purely delusional. I can’t think of any other motive that would cause him to claim recognition of a song of South Africans in poverty other than ignorance.

I am now one of the very few people that know the truth about this song we all know and love. There is not much I can do to help Solomon Linda’s family attain the rights to the money they deserve. However, I imagine Solomon Linda constantly looking over us from somewhere in the sky. I imagine that every time someone finds out the song rightfully belongs to him, he bursts into song and happily sings that amazing melody of his. I imagine that he doesn’t care about the money, he is happy that he gets to share his wonderful music with the whole world, even if some people do not know it is his music. I imagine, but I pray to God it’s true.

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.