Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mbube (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)

Originally recorded in South Africa by Solomon Linda and The Evening Birds in 1939, the song Mbube, which most of us are familiar with as The Lion Sleeps Tonight, earned for its writer a one time fee and no royalties. It has been rewritten twice, and covered by such artists as Pete Seeger and the Weavers, The Kingston Trio, The Tokens, Miriam Makeba (famous also for her "Click Song"), and R.E.M. The song earned some $15 million dollars in licensing fees from the Disney movie The Lion King alone. It is arguably one of the most beloved and successful musical compositions of the Twentieth Century.

The song was written about King Shaka of the Zulus (1787-1828) who was refered to as The Lion and of whom it was rumored he had not died, but was asleep in the jungle and would one day return. The bastardized word "Wimoweh" which was the title of Seeger's version of the song is a corruption of the Zulu uyimbube, "you are a lion."

In its various versions the song was a hit in South Africa and Britain, and reached the top twenty in the US three times, reaching number one with The Tokens in 1961. Below are three versions of the song. The first is the original recording of Mbube by Solomon Linda and The Evening Birds from 1939. Second is Miriam Makeba's 1960 cover of Mbube. Third is the Token's 1961 number one US hit.


Ted Keer said...

Here you can read Mark Steyn's Song of the Week column on the composition, its versions and translations, the skepticism of various artists who covered it, and its international publishing history.

Mike@ said...

This is a Lion Sleeps Tonight version I always enjoyed :)

Ted Keer said...

Thanks, Mike. That was the Tokens' version of the song. The animation was cute. I was actually recently presented with the opportunity to study Zulu, the language of Solomon Linda who created this song. My teacher has sung for us Miriam Makeba's Click Song, which is in the related language, Xhosa, the native tongue of Nelson Mandela. What a small world ours.