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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Justice delayed but justice at last.

It's perhaps the best-known song to come out of Africa in the 20th century, but neither the composer of 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' — Solomon Linda — or his children got any part of the millions of dollars that the song made for others around the world. As we posted last month, however, the years-long legal struggle of the Linda family ended when the current holder of the song's copyright agreed to pay Linda's heirs an undisclosed amount of past royalties, generally believed to be millions of US dollars.

Better late than never, the NY Times has run a story on the song and the legal dispute, and it fills in some details that this magpie hadn't heard before:
Elizabeth Nsele

Elizabeth Nsele, one of Linda's daughters. [Photo: Naashon Zalk]

By 1939, a talent scout had ushered Mr. Linda's group, the Original Evening Birds, into a recording studio where they produced a startling hit called "Mbube," Zulu for "The Lion." Elizabeth Nsele, Mr. Linda's youngest surviving daughter, said it had been inspired by her father's childhood as a herder protecting cattle in the untamed hinterlands.

"The lion was going round and round, and the lion was happy," she said. "But my father was not happy. He had been staying there since morning and he was hungry." The lyrics were spartan — just mbube and zimba, which means "stop" — but its chant and harmonies were so entrancing that the song came to define a whole generation of Zulu a cappella singing, a style that became known simply as Mbube. Music scholars say the 78 r.p.m. recording of "Mbube" was probably the first African record to sell 100,000 copies.
From there, it took flight worldwide. In the early 50's, Pete Seeger recorded it with his group, the Weavers. His version differed from the original mainly in his misinterpretation of the word "mbube" (pronounced "EEM-boo-beh"). Mr. Seeger sang it as "wimoweh," and turned it into a folk music staple.

Among the many other versions of the song since then were the 1960's recording by the US group The Tokens and the version used in the Disney animated film, 'The Lion King.'

Solomon Linda died penniless in 1962, having received the equivalent of only 38 US cents for the rights to his song. One of his daughters died five years ago, without seeing the successful end of her family's lawsuits.

You can read earlier Magpie posts about 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' here [June 2003] and here [Feb 2006].

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:18 AM | Get permalink




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