This is my first time playing along with jim’s song lyric sunday: hot smoking music. Each week has a theme; this week’s, suggested by Paula of light motifs is: Lion, Tiger, Bear, Eagle, Shark. A rumble in the jungle.

Initially, I was going to post about Ferron’s song “Misty Mountain” from her album, Testimony:

The eagle takes the wind

It makes me think of this my friend

Where does the eagle live in me?

Then, I read the obit of Philip Margo in the New York Times. Margo, as a member of the Tokens, made the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” at number one hit in 1961.

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” has its origins in South Africa where Solomon Linda and the Original Evening Birds recorded “Mbube” – Zulu for lion. In the early 1950s, the American folk group, The Weavers featuring Pete Seeger, performed the song, changing “mbube” to the familiar “wim-oh-way.” Other folkies, such as the Kingston Trio, went on to recorded it during that decade.

In 1961, the Tokens were looking for a song to follow up their first hit, “Tonight I Fell in Love.” RCA Records hired lyricist George Weiss to work on “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The Tokens weren’t particularly taken with the song or their recording of it. In fact, the group tried persuading RCA not to release it. The Tokens were wrong; the song hit #1 on the Billboard Chart in 1961. In 1994, a version by South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was included in the Disney movie, The Lion King, and later became part of the Broadway musical.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo brought the song back to its roots in Zulu language and culture. However, it wasn’t until a 2000 article by South African journalist, Rian Malan, in Rolling Stone, that people generally became aware of the song’s origins with Solomon Linda’s “Mbube.” Malan estimated that the royalties from usage in the Disney film alone were worth $15 million dollars.

Solomon Linda was working for Gallo Records as a cleaner and packer, singing on weekends with the Evening Birds. In 1939, he was invited into the studio to record 78 rpm phonograph. The result, after several takes, was “Mbube.” Marketed to black audiences, the song was a hit selling over 100,000 copies in Africa. The song was popular with black South African immigrants in Great Britain. Linda’s song gave rise to a style of African a cappella music known as mbube and isicathamiya, also popularized by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

A documentary, The Lion’s Trail, inspired by the Malan article, traced the song’s history and exposed the treacherous inner workings of the publishing industry. Various people were complicit in denying Linda recognition and royalties in America. As a result of the publicity, Linda’s family successfully sued Disney and others for royalties for the use of the song in the movie and Broadway musical.

I have a vague recollection of the lawsuit; often, it’s Disney suing or going after someone rather than vice versa. I suggest you read the Wikipedia article on the song, the copyright fraud in America, and denial of the roots of the song. A short documentary, “The Story Behind ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight,'” provides additional history and insights. Listen to an African language version of the song by Ladysmith Black Mambazo for the 50th Anniversary recording, Africa in Harmony, “Memoweh Mbube.”

I’ve included lyrics for these versions of the song: Solomon Linda; Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and the Tokens.

Sources: “Philip Margo, 79, Who Sang of a Sleepy Lion,” New York Times, Sunday, November 21, 2021, Wikipedia and Royal Edit Productions, “The Story Behind “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” December 2015.

Lala kahle

Imbube Ingonyama ifile

Ingonyama ilele

Thula

Near the village, the peaceful village

The lion sleeps tonight

Near the village, the peaceful village

The lion sleeps tonight

Ingonyama ilele

Hush, my darling, don’t fear, my darling

The lion sleeps tonight

Hush, my darling, don’t fear, my darling

The lion sleeps tonight

He, ha helelemama

Ohi’mbube

Ixesha lifikile

Lala

Lala kahle

Near the village, the peaceful village

The lion sleeps tonight

Near the village, the peaceful village

The lion sleeps tonight

My little darling

Don’t fear, my little darling

My little darling

Don’t fear, my little darling

Ingonyama ilele

A family lived close to the jungle

At the end of the day they all sit together around the fire

They have their supper and relax and talk a little

The youngest boy becomes afraid

He hears all the sounds of the wild animals in the forest

Cheetahs, wolves jackals and lions

He starts crying at the darkness

And wild sounds that fill him with fear

Then his mother takes him in her arms

And sings to him

The family is always strong together

They protect one another

Grandparents, his father and mother

Uncles, aunts, cousins brothers and sisters

They all join and sing together

Soon he falls asleep, only the beautiful song fills his ears

Mbube, mbube, mbube, mbube

Mbube, mbube, mbube, mbube

In the jungle, the mighty jungle

The lion sleeps tonight

In the jungle, the mighty jungle

The lion sleeps tonight

Hush, my baby, don’t fear my darling

The lion sleeps tonight

Hush, my baby, don’t fear my darling

The lion sleeps tonight

Mbube, mbube, mbube, mbube

Mbube, mbube, mbube, mbube

Mbube, mbube, mbube, mbube

Mbube, mbube, mbube, mbube

Weeheeheehee dee heeheeheehee weeoh aweem away

Weeheeheehee dee heeheeheehee weeoh aweem away

(Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh)

(Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh)

(Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh)

(Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh)

In the jungle, the mighty jungle

The lion sleeps tonight

In the jungle the quiet jungle

The lion sleeps tonight

Wee heeheehee weeoh aweem away

Wee heeheehee weeoh aweem away

Near the village, the peaceful village

The lion sleeps tonight

Near the village, the quiet village

The lion sleeps tonight

Wee heeheeheehee weeoh aweem away

Rrr, la la la weeoh aweem away

Hush, my darling, don’t fear, my darling,

The lion sleeps tonight

Hush, my darling, don’t fear, my darling,

The lion sleeps tonight

Wah oh oh, wah oh oh, wah oh wimoweh

Weeheeheehee dee heeheeheehee weeoh aweem away

Weeheeheehee dee heeheeheehee weeoh aweem away

Two weeks ago, I visited the Museum of Modern Art. One of the pleasures was enjoying old favourites, organized in renovated and reimagined ways, and experiencing new installations. Among the Van Goghs, Magrittes, and Dalis, Henri Rosseau’s “The Sleeping Gypsy.” A riveting image, ripe as a writing prompt, and while the gypsy is sleeping, the lion definitely is not.

image: Henri Rosseau, “The Sleeping Gypsy,” 1987