If you’re a lover of music – or even of Disney films – then ReMastered: The Lion’s Share is a must watch. Netflix’s original documentary delves into the complexities of the music industry and tells the story of one of the world’s most recognisable songs, known to most of us as The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
Although the lyrics and the catchy chorus is universally recognised, its writer is virtually unknown. Solomon Linda was born in a rural part of KwaZulu-Natal in 1909. After being spotted by a talent scout in Johannesburg, Solomon improvised the song iMbube (Lion) in the studio. It was originally recorded in 1939 by Solomon and The Evening Birds at Gallo Records, and soon after, Solomon sold the rights to Gallo for the equivalent of around US$2.
Because of its authentic sound, iMbube became a popular song, sung by many international pop icons, including Pete Seeger of the Weavers. When it hit American shores, the Zulu title became the more phonetic Wimbuweh.
By the time the song reached commercial success, the title had changed to The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and by then, Solomon’s iconic song had become an international sensation selling millions of records.
Solomon’s iconic song had become an international sensation selling millions of records.
The search for justice
However, there was a tremendous injustice behind this legendary song, and it is all thanks to South African writer Rian Malan who bought the crime to the public’s knowledge.
Rian was so invested in the history of the song that he not only began researching the origins of iMbube, but also investigated whether Solomon Linda’s family were ever compensated for the millions of dollars the song had earned over the years.
Malan’s quest for justice for the Solomon family spiralled into years of court hearings, backlash in the media and bickering over money.
“The song not only became the most famous melody to ever come out of Africa, but it also became the most lucrative,” said Rian.
Solomon Linda had been dead for many years when his three living daughters discovered that the song their father had written had made so much money, and they had received so little of it.
As the song was famously used in The Lion King, even entertainment giant Disney got involved. Rian and his South African legal team went toe-to-toe with one of America’s biggest corporations.
It’s an inspirational and impactful story, and one that has many echoes in the stories of other African artists who have dealt with similar injustices. It’s well worth the watch on Netflix.