Skip to content

The Lion Sleeps Tonight: One Song’s Journey from 1930s South Africa to Disney Money-Spinner     

Disney’s Lion King made it famous, but the song had its origins in 1930s South Africa. Originally known as Mbube, the song’s title ultimately became associated with a style of a cappella music, typically sung by men and in isiZulu. Sung by Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds, Mbube was released in 1939 by South Africa’s oldest independent label, Gallo Record Company, for whom Linda worked as a packer in the pressing plant. In 40s South Africa, Linda became a star. But the song’s long, complicated history was just beginning. In 1951, US folk singer Pete Seeger was handed a copy and decided to record a version with his band, the Weavers. In the hands of four white voices from New York City, the looped chorus of “uyimbube” (“You are a lion” in Zulu) became “wimoweh”, and the title of their cover.