Title: The Lion Sleeps Tonight Title: Mbube
Artist: The Tokens Artist: Solomon Linda's Original Evening Birds
Album: N/A - single release Album: N/A
Although it has been recorded many times both before and after, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" first became a hit when it was recorded by The Tokens in 1961. The doo-wop group was initially resistant to this adventurous arrangement, which features falsetto singing supported by tom-tom and sidestick drumming, a saxophone solo and a descant soprano. But the song became an instant sensation, landing at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Interestingly, this recording was also the first to feature the English lyrics with which everyone is so familiar. The song had existed for over 20 years in the original Zulu as "Mbube" ("Lion"), selling over 100,000 copies in South Africa before being discovered by Alan Lomax, who brought it to the attention of folk singer Pete Seeger, who recorded it under the title "Wimoweh" with his group The Weavers.
It's fun to compare the two songs and to think about the path a song can travel during its lifetime. Solomon Linda essentially improvised "Mbube" during a recording session in Johannesburg in 1939 and over fifty years later, Disney made the song into a worldwide sensation by featuring it in the 1994 animated film The Lion King.