Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Back by popular demand: The Fidelista Lion eats (Little Darling) gusanos before going to sleep tonight
The Lion Sleeps Tonight" began as a 1939 African popular music hit "Mbube" that, in modified versions, also became a hit in the US and UK.
"Mbube" (Zulu for "lion") was first recorded by its writer, Solomon Linda, and his group, The Evening Birds, in 1939. Gallo Record Company paid Linda a single fee for the recording and no royalties. "Mbube" became a hit throughout South Africa and sold about 100,000 copies during the 1940s. The song became so popular that Mbube lent its name to a style of African a cappella music, though the style has since been mostly replaced by isicathamiya (a softer version).
Alan Lomax brought the song to the attention of Pete Seeger of the folk group The Weavers. It was on one of several records Lomax lent to Seeger. After having performed the song for at least a year in their concerts, in November, 1951, the Weavers recorded their version entitled "Wimoweh", a mishearing of the original song's chorus of 'uyimbube' (meaning "you're a lion"). Pete Seeger had made some of his own additions to the melody. The song was credited exclusively to Paul Campbell, a fictitious entity used by Harry Richmond to copyright material in the public domain.
Pete Seeger explains in one recording, "it refers to an old legend down there, [about] their last king [of the Zulus], who was known as Shaka The Lion. Legend says, Shaka The Lion didn't die when Europeans took over our country; he simply went to sleep, and he'll wake up some day." (See "Senzenina / Wimoweh" on Seeger's With Voices Together We Sing (Live).)
It was published by Folkways, a subsidiary of Richmond/TRO. Their 1952 version, arranged by Gordon Jenkins, became a top-twenty hit in the U.S., and their live 1957 recording turned it into a folk music staple. This version was covered in 1959 by The Kingston Trio.
New lyrics to the song were written by George David Weiss, Luigi Creatore, and Hugo Peretti, based very loosely upon the meaning of the original song. The Tokens' 1961 cover of this version rose to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and still receives fairly frequent replay on many American oldies radio stations. In the UK, an up-tempo rendering of this version was a top-ten hit for Karl Denver and his Trio. In 1971, Robert John also recorded this version, and it reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972. Since then, "Wimoweh" / "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" has remained popular and frequently covered. (Wikipedia)