The Lion Sleeps Tonight

It must be very frightening for those people who live in the jungle, never knowing whether or not a herd of elephants will stampede through their village and stomp on their huts while they are sleeping.  The male lion stands proud with his mane that is not found in any other cat species and that makes him look like a king along with his roar which is very loud, distinctive, and commanding.  He is a formidable predator that lords over his pride, but he doesn’t really live in the jungle, as they prefer scrubland, grasslands, savannahs and rocky hills.  Lions hunt at night not because their eyesight is better under low light conditions than that of their prey, but because with stealth they can probably approach their prey closer at night than during the day.  If the lion has filled his belly, the people in the village can rest easier, as the lion does not need to hunt for food and he will probably sleep.

Solomon Linda was born in the Zulu heartland of South Africa in 1909.  During his childhood, Linda had worked as a herder protecting cattle in the African hinterlands from the lion which was the main predator.  Around 1930, he wrote a hunting song titled ‘Mbube’, which means lion in Zulu which is now Swaziland.  In his mid-20s, he moved to Johannesburg, where he led an a capella band that charmed audiences in the local beer halls.  He sang in a high soprano over four-part harmony chants featuring a dense meshing of low male voices above which Solomon yodeled and howled.  Solomon Linda recorded ‘Mbube’ in 1939 with his group, The Evening Birds.

‘Mbube’ became a hit and Linda a star throughout South Africa.  By 1948, the song had sold over 100,000 copies in Africa and among black South African immigrants in Great Britain.  In 1949, Alan Lomax, then working as folk music director for Decca Records, brought Solomon Linda’s 78 recording to the attention of his friend Pete Seeger of the folk group The Weavers.  Seeger worked up a version titled ‘Wimoweh’ with his band and their 1952 record, with the Gordon Jenkins Orchestra, was basically them singing the title word with vocal flourishes over four simple chords.  A Top 20 hit, the writing credit went to “Paul Campbell”, a pseudonym for the group.  There was no mention of Solomon Linda.  Linda had received 10 shillings roughly 87 cents today for signing over the copyright of Mbube to Gallo Studios, the company that produced his group’s original record.  As compensation, they also gave him a job sweeping floors and serving tea in their packing house.

In 1960, Hank Medress, Jay Siegel, and Phil and Mitch Margo were in a doo wop group called The Tokens, and they had a Top 15 hit ‘Tonight I Fell in Love’, but they were not signed to a record company yet.  They auditioned for producers Hugo E. Peretti and Luigi Creatore by singing The Weavers song ‘Wimoweh’ to them.  Hugh and Luigi were impressed by the performance but decided that the song needed new lyrics.  With help from George David Weiss an American songwriter and arranger, Hugo and Luigi rewrote the song, giving it the title ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’.  In 1961, this song went to #11 in the UK and #1 in the US.  Weiss had other successful hits with ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ in 1961, with Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, that was recorded by Elvis Presley, ‘What A Wonderful World’ in 1967, with Bob Thiele, recorded by Louis Armstrong and many others.

A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh

In the jungle, the mighty jungle
The lion sleeps tonight
In the jungle the quiet jungle
The lion sleeps tonight

A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh

Near the village the peaceful village
The lion sleeps tonight
Near the village the quiet village
The lion sleeps tonight

A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh

Hush my darling don’t fear my darling
The lion sleeps tonight
Hush my darling don’t fear my darling
The lion sleeps tonight

A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh

Written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Tale Weaver – #233 – July 25th – Darling hosted by Michael.

19 thoughts on “The Lion Sleeps Tonight

  1. I’ve always liked the Tokens version…I like the song…sometimes I love listening to it but sometimes depending on the situation… it can get on my nerves. Love/Hate going on with it.

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  2. Good article. I saw the Netflix Documentary The Lion’s Share which was eye-opening about that musical plagiarism case. I wish The Lion King wouldn’t be built on a legacy of thievery and cultural appropriation with that song, stealing lots of things from the 60s anime Kimba the White Lion, and for trademarking “Hakuna Matata” which is a slap in the face to the Swahili-speaking parts of Africa.

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