♫ The Lion Sleeps Tonight ♫

I was just trolling around through music files, rather in the mood for something old … something to transport me back to … wait … why on earth would I want to go back there???  A total aside … my neighbor’s son has just gotten his first car.  It’s actually a hand-me-down from his mom, but still … it’s his and he is so proud.  He keeps that thing so shiny it’ll put your eyes out on a sunny day.  And, I think he added some speakers to boost the sound of the radio, for you can hear him coming as soon as he turns the corner onto our street!  When he parks and cuts the engine, we all look at each other and say, “Tholfaqar’s home!”  He has really crappy taste in music, by the way, but … he’s only 18, so what can you expect?

So anyway, I was looking for an “Oldie but Goodie” tonight, when I came upon this, and I said, “Ooh ooh … THAT’S the one!!!!”

This song has an interesting history.  It started out as a hunting song originally sung in Zulu in what is now Swaziland, the original title was “Mbube,” which means lion.

This was popularized in the 1930s by South African singer Solomon Linda, who recorded it in 1939 with his group, The Evening Birds. Apparently they were a bold bunch, and got the idea from when they used to chase lions who were going after the cattle owned by their families.

Solomon Linda recorded the song in Johannesburg, South Africa after being discovered by a talent scout. The chanting was mostly improvised, but worked extraordinarily well. Released on the Gallo label, it became a huge hit across South Africa. Around 1948, Gallo sent a copy to Decca Records in the US, hoping to get it distributed there. Folk singer Pete Seeger got a hold of it and started working on an English version.

In the 1950s, Miriam Makeba recorded this with the Zulu lyrics, and Pete Seeger recorded it with his band, The Weavers (who dominated the charts with “Goodnight Irene”). The Weavers recorded the refrain of the song (no verses) and called it “Wimoweh.” Their version hit #15 on the US Best Sellers charts in 1952.

Now, the reason they called it Wimoweh is that Seeger thought they were saying “Wimoweh” on the original, and that’s what he wrote down and how it was recorded in English. They were actually saying “Uyimbube,” which means “You’re a Lion.” It was misheard for “Wimoweh” because when pronounced, Uyimbube sounds like: oo-yim-bweh-beh.  I still don’t see how Seeger got ‘Wimoweh’ out of that, but …

Hank Medress, Jay Siegel, and Phil and Mitch Margo, who made up The Tokens, had a Top 15 hit “Tonight I Fell in Love” in 1960, but didn’t have a record label in 1961. They auditioned for producers Hugo and Luigi (Peretti and Creatore) by singing “Wimoweh” to them. Hugh and Luigi were impressed by the performance but decided that the song needed new lyrics. With help from George Weiss, Hugo and Luigi rewrote the song, giving it the title “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The Tokens thought this had been nothing more than an elaborate audition – “Who is gonna buy a song about a lion sleeping” was their general sentiment. They were so embarrassed with the new title and lyrics that they fought the release of the recording.  Imagine their surprise, then, when The Lion Sleeps Tonight started its climb to the #1 position, hitting the top of the charts in the Christmas holidays of 1961-62.

The success of The Lion Sleeps Tonight didn’t ensure long-term recording security for The Tokens as a singing group. They didn’t have a singing/recording contract, but they DID have a producing contract! After “Lion,” members of the group had producing success with the Chiffons (“He’s So Fine,” “One Fine Day,” “Sweet Talkin’ Guy”), the Happenings (“See You in September,” “My Mammy”) and Dawn (“Knock Three Times,” “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree”). In 1971, they produced a note-for-note remake of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by Robert John – with Jay, Hank, and Mitch singing backgrounds and Ellie Greenwich singing bass. The new version peaked at #3.

In the 1950s, Solomon Linda sold the rights to this song to Gallo Records of South Africa for 10 shillings (about $1.70), at a time when apartheid laws robbed blacks of negotiating rights.  Solomon Linda died in poverty from kidney disease in 1962 at age 53.  His three surviving daughters sued for royalty rights to this song in 1999 and won a settlement in the case six years later.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight
The Tokens

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

Songwriters: George David Weiss / Hugo E Peretti / Luigi Creatore / Solomon Linda
The Lion Sleeps Tonight lyrics © Concord Music Publishing LLC

71 thoughts on “♫ The Lion Sleeps Tonight ♫

  1. Pingback: Perhaps I’m mysterious in a good way? I got the Mystery Blogger Award! | Ospreyshire's Realm

  2. Our brains love to change sounds we cannot define into something close to the language that we do speak. Uyimbube has nothing to reference it it English, but the sound itself could be grossly restructured as “awimoweh,” though that spelling would have been controversial had Solomon Linda heard it, I think. (Not sure why the first syllable got dropped though!) Anyway, once the change was made, and an Anglicisation constructed, it was then easy for our vocal cords to recreate that sound.
    The first and 3rd lines of the verses are very reminiscent of the call and response style of ZULU songs as later popularised in North America by the South African group, Ladysmith Black Mombazo.
    How close The Tokens version is to the original I have no idea, but it is music to my ears.

    Liked by 2 people

    • So, it obviously is not only those like you and I who are hard of hearing, that are auditorially challenge? Sigh. My brain changes sounds, sights, and tastes around daily … I think it is a game it plays with me. I leave it at … I like the Tokens’ version of this song. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jill, this is quite the memorable song. In the animated “The Lion King,” this song accented the best part of the movie with the friendship between the lion, warthog and meerkat. While I did not see the recent live animal version with voice inserts, apparently this same part rescued a less than stellar movie. Keith

    Liked by 2 people

    • Glad you liked it, Keith! I loved the animated version of Lion King, which is a good thing, for Natasha was a toddler when it came out on video, and for about six months, we had to watch it nearly every night! At one time, I had the dialog memorized. I haven’t seen the new version, either … several friends who have say it is excellent, but … I’m in no hurry to see it … some things just don’t need to be re-made or upgraded.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I never understood why they needed a “live action” remake when there were no human characters and it’s just realistic CGI. Not going to lie, I used to like that movie a lot when I was a kid, but researching the various controversies and finding the unsavory racist undertones with the hyenas as an adult made me shy away. I also wish Disney would credit the Linda family.

        Liked by 2 people

        • No, me either … I rarely watch remakes of anything that I liked the first time, for the remake is rarely as good as the original. I agree with you on the ethics of Disney … and I would have second thoughts about purchasing the movie today, knowing what I know. But, I still enjoy the movie, though I haven’t watched it for a while. My granddaughter who used to insist on watching it every single day, is now almost 25 years old, so she doesn’t ask for it as often now! 😉

          Liked by 2 people

          • Same here. I rarely watch remakes in general. It’s okay if you didn’t know about the baggage that movie carried back then. That’s not your fault. This conversation sort of reminds me of a post I did not too long ago where I ask if someone separates the art from the artist or not whenever something devious happened. I also had a rant post a while back talking about my experience with The Lion King growing up and how my thoughts have changed in my adulthood. Good to know your granddaughter doesn’t insist on watching it every time now. Haha!

            Liked by 2 people

            • Y’know … that’s a good, thought-provoking question — whether one separates the art from the artist … what sort of feedback did you get? It’s a conundrum … in the case of The Lion King, I will still watch the movie since I have it on DVD, but I don’t think I would buy it now, knowing what I know. But … and this doesn’t pertain to art, but is similar in nature … I refuse to shop at Hobby Lobby or eat at Chick-Fil-A, because of their bigotry toward the LGBT community. Even though I used to enjoy shopping at Hobby Lobby, and thought Chick-Fil-A made a decent chicken sammie. I can live without either one, and I will not give my money to a company that discriminates against anyone, be it African-Americans, LGBT, Muslims, Jews, or any other group. Yes, Miss Goose has grown up and some days I have to wonder which of us is the adult!

              Liked by 2 people

              • Thanks. Most of the people commented try to separate, but they didn’t excuse the bad actions. There were a few who couldn’t separate those things. That’s understandable especially since you had the DVD to begin with. Besides the theft, and the other things that Disney did as a company, I had issues with the misrepresentation of Africa in The Lion King and Tarzan which I talked about in that aforementioned rant post on the Ospreyshire blog.

                Good points about various companies who do bad things. I do my best to research companies. Right now, I’m boycotting Levi’s and Wrangler given what happened in one of their Lesotho factories. I’m glad you go against companies who discriminate against others because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation.

                Hahaha! That’s funny.

                Liked by 2 people

                • It’s so hard to keep up with what companies are abusing people, abusing the environment, etc. I have boycotted Wal-Mart for years, in part due to their treatment of their employees. I suspect that if we knew everything about the companies that produce every product we buy, we would never buy anything and would have to grow our own food. Sigh.

                  Liked by 2 people

  4. Now that’s the one I have been thinking about! Thanks for filling in the pieces Jill.
    Meanwhile…check this out for our very own Karl Denver

    (And if you want to hear it done criminally bad……trawl for a 1980s version by a knocked together otufit called Tight Fit…..urrrghhhh!)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I found out the history of that song when some bloggers and I were ranting about how much stuff The Lion King stoke from. Someone commented that Kimba the White Lion and the Hakuna Matata trademark weren’t the only things and linked to a Rolling Stones article that talked about it. Not only that, but Netflix came out with a documentary this year called The Lion’s Share which is about that song and the plagiarism case. I also reviewed it on one of my other blogs. https://iridiumeye.wordpress.com/2019/08/31/the-lions-share-review/

    Liked by 2 people

          • Yeah, I was not a fan of what Disney did with the multiple levels of stealing and other questionable aspects they did. It would be awesome if they acknowledged the Lindas and Osamu Tezuka (Kimba’s creator), let alone dropping the Hakuna Matata trademark.

            Liked by 2 people

            • It would be, but don’t hold your breath. Disney is no different than any of the rest of the big corporations … it’s all about profit. I think in the beginning they were better, but … money seems to corrupt, just as power does.

              Liked by 2 people

              • I’m certainly aware that it’s wishful thinking on my part, and even I know how unlikely it is for them to relent despite the obvious documented evidence. It annoys me how Disney gets a free pass for bad things when other big companies get bashed for similar or lighter things.

                Liked by 2 people

                • Yeah, I agree, but then … there are a lot of big companies these days that are getting a free pass in one way or another. The fossil fuel industry, Big Ag, the logging industry … they are destroying our planet, and yet paying no taxes, have minimal regulations and restrictions … sigh. It’s not a fair world, my friend. As the old saying goes, “The rich get richer, while the poor get poorer”. What it doesn’t say is that the rich get richer at the expense of the poor.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  • Oh, definitely. I guess I meant in the terms of media and entertainment companies, but these bigger industries absolutely get a free pass. It’s quite infuriating and they even fund said media companies through investments and commercials in between shows. So many companies are predatory whether it’s stealing culture or stealing resources.

                    Liked by 1 person

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