The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)

(Solomon Linda)

FZ album(s) in which song has appeared

Tour(s) on which song is known to have been performed (main source: FZShows, v. 7.1)

Comments

Marc De Bruyn (emdebe@village.uunet.be), August 31, 2003:

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is actually an African doo-wop song, originally titled "Mbube" (pronounced EEM-boo-beh), which means "Lion", and it was sung with a haunting Zulu refrain that sounded, to English-speaking people, like "wimoweh".

"We-de-de-de, we-de-de-de-de de, we-um-um-a-way, we-de-de-de, de-de-de-de-de de, we-um-um-a-way. A wimoweh, a-wimoweh, a-wimoweh, a wimoweh, a wimoweh, a-wimoweh, aA-wimoweh, a wimoweh, a wimoweh, a-wimoweh, a-wimoweh, a wimoweh, a wimoweh, a-wimoweh, a-wimoweh, a wimoweh. In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight. In the jungle, the quiet jungle, the lion sleeps tonight. Weeeeeeeee de-de-de-de, we-um-um-a-way, weeeeeeeee de-de-de-de, we-um-um-a-way. Near the village, the peaceful village, the lion sleeps tonight. Near the village, the quiet village, the lion sleeps tonight. Weeeeeeeee de-de-de-de, we-um-um-a-way, weeeeeeeee a la-la-la, we-um-um-a-way. Hush my darling, don't fear my darling, the lion sleeps tonight. Hush my darling, don't fear my darling, the lion sleeps tonight. Whoa Whoa whoa um-a-way, weeeeeeeee deeeeeee, we-um-um-a-way. We-de-de-de, de-de-de-de-de de, we-um-um-a-way, we-de-de-de, de-de-de-de-de de, we-um-um-a-way."

"Mbube" was a big hit in what is now Swaziland; it sold nearly 100,000 copies in the 1940s by its originator, South African Solomon Linda. Linda had written it based on a boyhood experience chasing lions that were stalking the family's cattle. Linda recorded the tune in 1939 with his group the Evening Birds, and it was so popular that Zulu choral music became known as "Mbube Music".

Historian and musicologist Alan Lomax took the record to Pete Seeger, of the American folk group the Weavers. Seeger was enchanted by "Mbube". The Weavers (led by Gordon Jenkins' Orchestra) adapted it into a Top 15 hit in 1952, as "Wimoweh". It was basically an instrumental with the group singing "wimoweh" over and over, with other vocal flourishes. The tune really took off in the Weavers' live version at Carnegie Hall in 1957. Linda was not credited as the writer; that honor went to "Paul Campbell", a pseudonym for the group. However, when the Kingston Trio released their version in 1959 (on the From the Hungry i LP) the writer credit was listed as "traditional; adapted and arranged by Campbell-Linda". It would be a long time before Linda or his heirs received any substantial royalties from a song that is perhaps one of the most well-known worldwide hits.

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" reached the #1 position in the charts in 1961, thanks to romanticized version of The Tokens (on the RCA label). The Tokens originated in a Brooklyn high school with Neil Sedaka as the lead singer (but he's not on the record). Opera singer Anita Darien supplied the high soprano during the sax solo and drummer Panama Francis played brushes on newspapers piled on a drum box. After their smashing success, the Tokens' career took a different course: they began producing records, not singing them ("He's So Fine", "Tie a Yellow Ribbon", "Knock Three Times").

Late in 1971, exactly ten years after the first "Lion" captured the American audience's ear, he began roaming the airwaves once more, in a note-for-note duplicate by Robert John that reached the Top 10 and sold a million copies again. Before that Miriam Makeba, Jimmy Dorsey and Manu DiBango, amongst others performed and recorded "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". In the '80s there was a version by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. In "The Lion King" Broadway production, it's the only non-Disney song performed.

Excerpted from "Behind The Hits: The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by Bob Shannon (http://www.bobshannon.com/stories/Lion.html). See also: "In the Jungle" by Rian Malan in Rolling Stone (May 25, 2000—available on http://www.3rdearmusic.com/forum/mbube2.html).

 

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