Friday, April 17, 2009

"Underground Legends"

Solomon Linda (1909-October 8, 1962)

Solomon Linda was a South African Zulu singer and musician, who is most remembered for his song "Mbube," which he and the Evening Birds recorded in 1939. Linda was born near Ladysmith in the impoverished village of Msinga area of Zululand. He attended the Gordon Memorial School in the South African village, where he heard the popular Black American vocalist Orpheus McAdoo performing with his group, The Virginia Jubilee Singers. The syncopated music that was spreading across South Africa had a major influence on Solomon and he incorporated it into his own songs that he sang at weddings and dinners with friends.

After moving to Johannesburg in the 30s to find work, Linda began singing during the weekend with an acappella group. In two years, they became a professional group called Solomon Linda and the Evenening Birds. In 1933, the group disbanded, but Linda created a new group and used the same name. Linda's distinct falsetto helped them to get discovered by a talent scout and producer, Griffith Motsieloa, in 1938 after they performed in several choir competitions. Since Linda worked for Eric Gallo Recording Company's Roodepoort plant as a record packer in 1939, the Evening Birds and Solomon recorded several songs in his studio. During the session, the song "Mbube" finished in four takes. "Mbube" became a word-of-mouth hit and sold 100,000 copies. Unfortunately, Linda only received 10 shillings (Less than US $2) for the rights to the song.

In 1948, the Evening Birds broke up and Linda went on to marry a woman named Regina and started a family. He still continued to perform and his song made him a star in South Africa. During the early fifties, Alan Lomax, a famous folk musicologist, found the recording made by the Evening Birds and introduced it to Pete Seeger of the Weavers. Seeger could not hear the words properly on the scratchy recording, so he mistook the word "uyimbube" ("You're a Lion") as "wimoweh." The Weavers recorded the song in 1952 and it quickly became a Top 20 hit in the US. At Carnegie Hall, the group recorded their famous and influential live version in 1957 and it became a folk music standard. The Token, a Pop group, were inspired by the live recording to craeate their 1961 hit, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

Although the song gained huge popularity worldwide, Solomon Linda remained poor. The only compensation he received was a $1000 check from Pete Seeger (who publicly credits him for the song) for "Mbube." He collapsed on stage in 1959 and diagnosed with kidney disease. After two years in and out of the hospital, Linda died on October 8, 1962 from kidney failure. Regina, his wife, was too poor to buy a tombstone, so it took 18 years before one was erected for him.


The acappella style (Isicathamiya) that was popularized by Ladysmith Black Mambazo was named "Mbube" after Linda's song. Linda is credited with the vocal innovation of using a number of bass singers instead of one singer for each part and a falsetto voice for the lead. It combined the call-and-repsonse form of African music with the choral sound. (Also, his group was known for wearing striped suits to show that they were urban sophisticates.)

There has been over 160 versions of the song "Mbube," including the versions of "Wimoweh," and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Many artists, such as the Kingston Trio, the Tuxedo Swingsters, Miriam Makeba, Jim Dorsey, Karl Denver, Robert John, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Brian Eno, R.E.M. and Nsync, have had hits from the three versions of the song.

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" has appeared in a few movies, Coming to America, Dogfight, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and most famously, The Lion King.

In 2006, Linda's daughters received royalties after suing Walt Disney Company for using the song in The Lion King (some justice has been served).

Mbube - Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds

Mbube - Miriam Makeba

Mbube - Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Wimoweh (suppose to be Mbube) - Pete Seeger and the Weavers

Wimoweh (suppose to be uyimbube) - Kingston Trio

The Lion Sleeps Tonight - The Tokens

The Lion Sleeps Tonight - Nsync

The Lion Sleeps Tonight - Brian Eno

The Lion Sleeps Tonight - Ladysmith Black Mambazo

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