February 2014

Solomon Linda, 1909-1962

Recently two giants have passed on, Nelson Mandela and Pete Seeger. Let's travel back in time to see how their lives intersected in South Africa back in the 1950s. Yay, it's Black History Month!

And oh, by the way...

Before we dive into the previous century, let's propose to never use the following verbal crutch during presentations.... "and oh, by the way"... how many times have we seen a program manager use this during a presentation, as a means of stating some obvious point about how hard some opposing qualities are in a development? Yes, we need 0.2 dB loss from DC to 110 GHz using MEMS phase shifters, and we want 10 watts power handing.... and oh, by the way, we want the solution to be reliable and cost fifteen bucks! That expression was "cool" the first time it was used. Now it is just annoying.

While on this topic, can we stop using the adjective "hard-core"? As in, we are working hard-core on that design now.... the etymology of this word might have began with road construction, but it made a lasting association with the porn industry. Producers were looking for a keyword that would tell potential viewers that the content was more than the usual rolling-around-while-kissing-naked "soft-core" material that was offered in back in the day, like Blue Summer. Not that I would (ahem) have such a movie on my Netflix list...

The term hard-core as applied to pornography may have first appeared in Ernst & Schwartz’s 1964 book Censorship: The Search for the Obscene. It has been in common usage in that context for 50 years. Yes, it also applies to a branch of punk rock music which is not my favorite. Neophyte's Army of Hard-core is not something you want your work compared to either.


One more complaint... can you "have" the Chicken Marsala instead of "doing" it in 2014? Was the word "have" a couple letters too long? Some days I wish I was a waiter so I could correct everyone that is doing this....

Here's a web site that attempts to clean out overused and objectional words from the English language each year. Like "twerk".

Johannesburg, 1939

Back to today's topic...

In South Africa in 1939, a singer named Solomon Linda and his group the Evening Birds improvised a song titled Mbube at Gallo Studios, at the time the only recording studio in sub-Saharan Africa. Linda sold his right to the song for two bucks, and it went on to sell 100,000 copies. One repeated Zulu word is "uyembube", which means "you're a lion". Here are the original lyrics and a translation we found on the web. Of course, everything that is found on the web is not guaranteed correct and there is no-doubt more than one way to translate Zulu expressions.

Njalo Ekuseni Uya Waletha Amathamsanqa


Uyimbube Mama We

He! He! He! He! 
Uyimbube Mama 

We We We We We We

Kusukela Kudala Kuloku Kuthiwa
Uyimbube Mama


Every Morning You Bring Us Good Luck
Good Luck

You're A Lion 
You're A Lion
You're A Lion

You're A Lion
You're A Lion, Mama!

Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!
You're A Lion, Mama

Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh
You're A Lion
You're A Lion 

Long, Long Ago People Used To Say
You're A Lion
You're A Lion, Mama



Solomon Linda's Mbube

Pete Seeger was exposed to the recording and created his own version of it with his group the Weavers in 1952. Seeger's version of the word "uyembube" was "wimoweh". It is pretty hard to make out the consonant "b" sound when bandwidth is severely limited as it was on Linda's original recording. It is even harder when you consider there might not be a "b" sound at all in the Zulu language, it could be one of those pesky fricative consonants. Perhaps someone with a PhD in linguistics could help sort out what "uyembube" should sound like. While South Africa has eleven official languages, the United States does not have even one official language, my muchachos.

Seeger popularized the song by playing it live, and it climbed the charts . The US record company TRO/Folkways threw a check to Gallo Studios and copyrighted the song's authorship to a fictitious "Paul Campbell". When Seeger learned that Linda was getting stiffed, he sent him a personal check for $1000 and asked that Folkways give his share of earnings to Linda. You can guess how well that was carried out... read more here. In the liner notes of one of his albums, Seeger provided his interpretation of the song being about a sleeping lion. You can hear the song and many more on the album The Weavers at Carnegie Hall.

Solomon Linda never made it big and died with $25 in the bank in 1962. Seeger never made it big either, excepts it the hearts of his millions of listeners and admirers. Seeger died January 27, 2014.


Pete Seeger's Wimoweh

Seeger's social activities in the 1950s were put on display at the HUAC meetings. He refused to answer questions based on his right to associate with anyone he pleased. Unlike his contemporary Burl Ives, who threw everyone under the bus.... I must admit, one of the first 45 records I owned was Ives' Little White Duck. And I still like his music. But long after you are dead, people will remember if you dumped your troubles onto your friends for your own convenience. Ives popularized Blue Tail Fly, a song about a slave who is celebrating his master's untimely death. It is said that Abe Lincoln played this song on his harmonica, and asked for it to be played when he gave the Gettysburg address. Here is a recording of Leadbelly singing Blue Tail Fly, a solid gold cut!

Here is a quote from Seeger's testimony. It landed him a two-year jail sentence that was overturned before he had to serve it. No one since Howard Hughes told off the Senate so thoroughly.

I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.

Yes, Congress is a bad joke today, but it was downright evil in the 1950s.

In 1961 RCA producers added English lyrics written by George David Weiss to Mbube and had the Tokens record it, as the Lion Sleeps Tonight, following the liner notes on Seeger's previous album that tried to explain what Mbube was all about. It hit number one on the pop chart for three weeks, not bad for some boys from Brooklyn. Jay Siegel is the front man singing soprano, and he's still singing it today. One of the absolute coolest things about this recording is the voice of Anita Darian, soprano opera singer, who adds an eerie counter melody that sounds almost like a Theramin or a synthesizer. She was not credited on the album. Neither was Solomon Linda, who died the following year..

Is it me, or does Jay actually look slightly like a lion? Maybe it's the haircut. Check out the miniature drummer.


The Tokens The Lion Sleeps Tonight

The Lion Sleeps Tonight made it back up the charts to #3 in 1972 during a 50's revival period (Grease was produced in this era). Recorded by Robert John, it is close to the Token's version, but slightly goofier (including some tuba riffs) and does not include an actual opera singer. Here is that recording for those obsessed with the topic (like me). It is in the same key as the Tokens and the meter is identical, as if Robert John was listening to the Tokens on headphones when he laid down the vocal track. If you want to torture your family or co-workers you can play the Tokens and Robert John's version together on Youtube and try to synchronize them. Just like you could with Chubby Checker and Hank Ballard's Twist recordings.

The Disney Company thought they had the rights to the song free and clear when they produced The Lion King in 1994, licensing the song from Abilene (the direct descendant of TRO Folkways). An article in The Rolling Stone in 2000 written by a South African journalist pointed out that Disney must have profited $15M from the song in a movie that netted $1B. Mbube is not the only copyright issue in the Lion King, the character Simba bears an uncanny resemblance to Kimba the White Lion, a Japanese TV show in the 1960s. Disney has a lot of copyright lawyers on the payroll for sure.

In South Africa, copyright law says that a creator maintains copyright his entire life, and his/her heirs inherit those rights for another 50 years after the creator dies. A Similar-but-different legal precedent applies in the United States. Example: if you want to re-publish one of Harry A. Franck's 33 books before the year 2032, you could come to me for permission, which I would grant if the request came wrapped in enough legal tender.

It took Solomon Linda's two daughters until 2006 collect a fraction of what Mbube has earned. Disney and Abilene settled for an undisclosed sum and the following conditions (quoted from Wikipedia)

• The Linda heirs will receive payment for past uses of The Lion Sleeps Tonight and an entitlement to future royalties from its worldwide use.
• The Lion Sleeps Tonight is acknowledged as derived from Mbube.
• Solomon Linda is acknowledged as a co-composer of The Lion Sleeps Tonight and will be designated as such in the future.
• A trust will be formed to administer the heirs’ copyright in Mbube and to receive on their behalf the payments due from the use of The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Where was Nelson Mandela during these decades? He was imprisoned from 1962 to 1990. He became South Africa's President by popular election in 1994, the same year Disney released Lion King. Hopefully, you already knew that, if not, you might want to rethink trying out for Jeopardy.

South Africa should provide a lesson to many United States politicians, if they paid attention to the big picture. You can only keep an under-class majority disenfranchised for so long, someday your bag of tricks will run out and we will all be sorry you didn't do more to make the lowest-paid workers just a little bit better. Start by raise the minimum wage, and shut up about how that would cause people to lose their jobs. Your restaurant meal isn't going to cook itself, your hotel bed isn't going to make itself, your car isn't going to wash itself... and you aren't about to give up any of the luxuries we all know you well deserve...

Haiti Rebuild

Want to help make some history? Haiti still needs international attention, following the earthquake on January 10, 2010, which killed 100,000 people and caused 26 million tons of rubble to fill the streets of Port Au Prince. Haiti Rebuild brings volunteers and resources direct to Haiti, specifically targeting education, economic development, and rebuilding communities.


Consider a donation to Haiti Rebuild (or volunteer to participate in the trip of a lifetime!) and tell Gabe and Manno I said "bonjour"!


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