Tag Archive: Wimoweh

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.


“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.

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.