South Africa–The Lion Sleeps…When?

“In the jungle, the quiet jungle, the lion sleeps tonight….” The most famous South African song in the Western Hemisphere is probably “Wimoweh,” a traditional South African tune recorded by archivist Alan Lomax, brought to America by folk legend Pete Seeger in the ’50s, popularized in 1961 by a vocal group called the Tokens, Disnified in the 1994 film “The Lion King,” and at some point even recorded by these folks…except “Wimoweh” is not a traditional tune–it’s a song written by South African musical pioneer Solomon Linda–and the word “Wimoweh” actually means nothing, it’s a word Seeger used because that’s what he thought the vocalists were singing on a recording. (The original is “‘uyimbube,” meaning “you’re a lion”). Linda’s actual composition is, “Mbube,” “The Lion,” which Linda first recorded in 1939 with his band, The Evening Birds. Rather than retain the rights and songwriting credit, Linda sold his share outright for just a few dollars. Big mistake. Not only did the tune sell 100,000 recordings in South Africa in the next decade and spawning a whole new genre of “mbube music,” but it also traveled to the U.S. via Seeger (who mistakenly thought Linda was receiving revenue for writing the song), and got a brand new set of factually inaccurate English lyrics for the Tokens to release in 1961. (For example, lions don’t typically live in the jungle–they live in the savannah, and, while lions do sleep up to 20 hours a day and therefore could technically be “sleeping tonight,” lions are primarily nocturnal. Yup.) Linda died in poverty in 1962. Only after the Disney version generated an estimated $15 million in revenue did Linda’s heirs successfully sue for compensation. A 2006 settlement acknowledged Linda’s composition and directed revenue to his family.

You’ll find the most detailed (and somewhat snide) account of this tale on the website, It’s worth a read, though some of the language in the article isn’t appropriate for little kids.

For more information:
Solomon Linda’s original version | Mahotella Queens perform Mbube | Popular version by The Tokens

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