Solomon Linda

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Solomon Linda
Solomon Linda in 1941
Solomon Linda in 1941
Background information
Pomeroy, Colony of Natal
Died8 September 1962(1962-09-08) (aged 52–53)
Johannesburg, Transvaal, Republic of South Africa
Occupation(s)Musician, singer, composer
LabelsGallo Record Company

Solomon Popoli Linda OIG (1909[1] – 8 September 1962), also known as Solomon Ntsele ("Linda" was his clan name),[2] was a South African musician, singer and composer best known as the composer of the song "Mbube", which later became the pop music success "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", and gave its name to the Mbube style of isicathamiya a cappella later popularized by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.[3]

Early years[edit]

Solomon Popoli Linda was born near Pomeroy, on the labor reserve Msinga, Umzinyathi District Municipality in Ladysmith in Natal, where he was familiar with the traditions of amahubo and izingoma zomshado (wedding songs) music.[3][4][5] He attended the Gordon Memorial mission school, where he learned about Western musical culture, hymns, and participated in choir contests.[3][4] [6]

In 1931, Linda, like many other young African men at that time, left his homestead to find menial work in Johannesburg, by then a sprawling gold-mining town with a great demand for cheap labour. He worked in the Mayi Mayi Furniture Shop on Small Street and sang in a choir known as the Evening Birds, managed by his uncles, Solomon and Amon Madondo, and which disbanded in 1933.[7]

Linda found employment at Johannesburg's Carlton Hotel and started a new group that retained the Evening Birds name. The members of the group were Solomon Linda (soprano), Gilbert Madondo (alto), Boy Sibiya (tenor), with Gideon Mkhize, Samuel Mlangeni, and Owen Sikhakhane as basses. They were all Linda's friends from Pomeroy.[3][4][7]

The group evolved from performances at weddings to choir competitions. Linda's musical popularity grew with the Evening Birds, who presented "a very cool urban act that wears pinstriped suits, bowler hats and dandy two-tone shoes".[6]


Sound sample of "Mbube" performed by Solomon Linda's Original Evening Birds (1939)

After Linda started working at the Gallo Record Company's Roodepoort plant in 1938 as a record packer,[8] the Evening Birds were witnessed by company talent scout Griffith Motsieloa.[3]

Italian immigrant Eric Gallo owned what at that time was sub-Saharan Africa's only recording studio. In 1939, while recording a number of songs in the studio, Linda improvised the song "Mbube" (Lion).[4] "Mbube" was a major success for Linda and the Evening Birds, reportedly selling more than 100,000 copies in South Africa by 1949. The recording was produced by Motsieloa at the Gallo Recording Studios, in Johannesburg. Unknowingly,[9] Linda sold the rights to Gallo Record Company for 10 shillings (less than US$2) soon after the recording was made.

In 1948, the Evening Birds disbanded, and a year later Linda married Regina. While raising a family he continued to perform. His song "Mbube" had made him well known in South Africa. Linda is credited with a number of musical innovations that came to dominate the isicathamiya style. Instead of using one singer per voice part, the Evening Birds used a number of bass singers. He introduced the falsetto main voice, which incorporated female vocal texture into male singing. His group was the first known to use striped suits to indicate that they were urban sophisticates. At the same time, their bass singing retained some musical elements indicative of traditional choral music.[3]

Some of Linda's music can be interpreted as expressing political dissent. For example, "Yethulisgqoko" ("Take off your hat", Gallo GE 887) recalls treatment by Pass Office officials, and ends with the words "Sikhalela izwe lakithi" ("We cry for our country"). Such expressions were an occasional feature of Mbube songs. Groups such as The Alexandrians were associated with the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union in Johannesburg.[3]

Alan Lomax[edit]

The original South African recording was discovered during the early 1950s by American musicologist Alan Lomax, who gave it to his friend, folk musician Pete Seeger of The Weavers. Seeger retitled it "Wimoweh", an approximate phonetic rendering of the song's Zulu language refrain, "uyimbube" ("you are a lion", from "u-" ["you"], "yi-" ["are"] and "mbube" ["lion"]),[10] and it was introduced to America by The Weavers; they recorded a studio version in 1952 which became a Top 20 hit in the US, as well as an influential live version recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1955 and released in April 1957. The Weavers' version was subsequently covered by The Kingston Trio in 1959.[6]

The Weavers' Carnegie Hall version was also the inspiration for the 1961 version recorded by popular music group The Tokens, for whom English lyrics were written by George David Weiss and retitled "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"; this is the version most often played on popular radio today. (However, at the time, 1961–62, a fast-tempo version by the Karl Denver Trio was the more successful in the UK.)[11]

Illness and death[edit]

During a performance in 1959, Linda collapsed. He was later diagnosed with kidney failure. His family suspected that he was bewitched by his musical rivals.[6]

Despite the popularity and wide use of the song, Linda died impoverished in 1962 of kidney failure. It was not until 18 years later that a tombstone was constructed at his gravesite.[12]


In 2000, South African journalist Rian Malan wrote a feature article for the magazine Rolling Stone, describing Linda's story and estimating that the song had earned US$15 million for its use in The Lion King alone. Malan and the South African filmmaker François Verster cooperated to make a television documentary called A Lion's Trail that tells Solomon Linda's story, and which was screened by PBS.

Lawsuit and settlement[edit]

In 2004, with the backing of the South African government and Gallo Records, Linda's descendants in South Africa sued The Walt Disney Company for its use in The Lion King movie and stage musical without paying royalties to them.[6][13] The story of the lawsuit against Disney and the aftermath of the settlement is told in the 2019 Netflix documentary, The Lion's Share.[14]

A trial was scheduled to start on 21 February 2006, but just before the trial, a settlement was reached between Linda's estate, Disney and Abilene Music Company, the true defendant of the litigation, who had granted an indemnity to Disney when it licensed use of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in The Lion King. The proceeds of the settlement were placed into a trust, to be administered by SA Music Rights CEO Nick Motsatsi.[15][16]

The primary outcomes of the settlement were:

  • The estate was to receive payment for past uses of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and an entitlement to future royalties from its worldwide use.
  • "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" was to be acknowledged as derived from "Mbube".
  • Solomon Linda was to be acknowledged as a co-composer of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and to be designated as such in the future.
  • A trust was to be formed to administer the estate's copyright in "Mbube" and to receive on their behalf the payments due from the use of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".[17]

Partial discography[edit]

During his musical career, Solomon Linda recorded many songs (some of them unissued) in the Gallo Recording Studio. He was accompanied by his vocal group, The Evening Birds.

  • 1938: Makasani/Mfo Ka Linda
  • 1938: Ngqo Ngqongo Vula/Ngi Boni Sebeni
  • 1939: Ntombi Ngangiyeshela (recorded c. 1938)/Hamba Pepa Lami
  • 1939: Yetulisigqoko
  • 1939: Mbube/Ngi Hambile (recorded c. 1938)
  • 1939: Sangena Mama/Sohlangana
  • 1939: Sengiyofela Pesheya/Ziyekele Mama
  • 1940: Jerusalema (recorded c. 1940)/Basibizalonkizwe
  • 1940: Sigonde 'Mnambiti (recorded c. 1939)/Bhamporo
  • 1942: Ngazula Emagumeni (recorded c. 1941)/Gijima Mfana
  • 1942: Ndaba Zika Linda/Ngiyomutshel'Ubaba


  1. ^ DeMain, Bill. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Performing Songwriter. Issue 95. July/August 2006.
  2. ^ Gilmore, Inigo, "Penniless sisters fight record industry over father's hit song", The Telegraph (UK), 11 June 2000.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Erlmann, Veit (1996). Nightsong: Performance, Power, and Practice in South Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226217215.
  4. ^ a b c d Frith, Simon, Popular Music: critical concepts in media and cultural studies, Volume 4, London: Routledge, 2004. ISBN 978-0-415-33270-5. p. 271
  5. ^ Erlmann, Veit, Music, Modernity, and the Global Imagination: South Africa and the West, New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  6. ^ a b c d e Malan, Rian, "In the Jungle", Rolling Stone, 25 May 2000. Retrieved 2007-06-19. ColdType Press, September 2003.
  7. ^ a b Erlmann, Veit, "Imbube: The Career of Solomon Linda", in African Stars: studies in Black South African performance, University of Chicago Press, 1991, pp. 165-67. ISBN 0-226-21722-1.
  8. ^ "Gallo Golden Anniversary: 1926-1976", Billboard, 5 February 1977. "In the same studios [Gallo's studio in Johannesburg] originated 'Wimoweh' ('The Lion Sleeps Tonight') first brought to the microphone as 'Mbube' by Solomon Linda, then a semi-professional with a job on the Gallo payroll as a record packer".
  9. ^ Linda's daughters claimed their father did not know how to read, in the 2019 documentary ReMastered: The Lion's Share.
  10. ^ " – Zulu-English dictionary".
  11. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 151. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  12. ^ "Solomon Linda Biography". AOL Music. Although the song helped to make Linda a popular performer in South Africa, he received little compensation beyond Seeger's check. Collapsing on stage in 1959, Linda was diagnosed with kidney disease. His family has continued to blame witchcraft for his ailment. After a lengthy period spent in and out of the hospital, Linda died on 8 October 1962. A tombstone was only placed on his grave 18 years later, because their family could not afford one at the time of his death.
  13. ^ "Mbube: Linda's Lion sleeps at last". Archived from the original on 24 January 2007. Retrieved 14 February 2007.
  14. ^ "ReMastered: The Lion's Share | Netflix Official Site". Netflix.
  15. ^ Blair, David (30 October 2004). "Penniless singer's family sue Disney for Lion King royalties". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 14 June 2007. The family of a South African performer and composer who died in poverty are suing Disney for £900,000 over claims that the company used of one of his tunes in their hit film and stage show The Lion King. Solomon Linda, who died in 1962 aged 61, wrote Mbube while eking out a living as a beer-hall singer in Johannesburg. The tune was later used for the hit single The Lion Sleeps Tonight and in a 20-second sequence of the 1994 film featuring the voices of Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson and Whoopi Goldberg.
  16. ^ "It's a Lawsuit, a Mighty Lawsuit". Time. 25 October 2004. Archived from the original on 15 May 2007. Retrieved 14 February 2007. It is one of the most naggingly catchy tunes in pop music - and, it turns out, one of the most controversial. The Lion Sleeps Tonight, featured in Disney blockbuster The Lion King, is based on the 1939 song Mbube, written by South African musician Solomon Linda. But Linda, a cleaner at a Johannesburg record company when he wrote the song, received virtually nothing for his work and died in 1962 with $25 in his bank account. His family is suing Disney for $1.5 million. Disney says it will fight the suit, but it's already paying off. Though not named in the suit, U.S. music-publishing house TRO/Folkways last month admitted it had not been paying royalties on a version of the song, and promises to give some $3,000 a year to the Linda family and to finance a memorial to the unsung songwriter.
  17. ^ Dean, Owen, "Copyright in the Courts: The Return of the Lion", WIPO Magazine, April 2006.(pdf of full issue)

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