The Lion Sleeps Tonight
The music business is brutal. From royalties and high-pressure record labels through to the increasing number of artists being sued for copyright infringement on chords and melodies, it’s sometimes difficult to remember a time when these things weren’t the norm. The Lion Sleeps Tonight is one of the most recognisable songs in our history, descending way back to the 1930’s with deep roots in South Africa under the original title “Mbube”. With the help of South African journalist Rian Malan, ReMastered uncovers the controversy and ensuing legal battle that followed over this simple melody.
We begin with a brief introduction to Malan himself, who grew up in South Africa during the 70’s before jumping on a plane across to America. From there, he released a critically acclaimed book called “My Traitor’s Heart” which became an instant hit and opened a lot of people’s eyes to the attitudes and beliefs in South Africa at the time. From here, the documentary gets to the heart of the issue, with an introduction to Solomon Linda and the original writer of this song. This Zulu native migrant rose to prominence during this time, fronting for a choir with his distinctive “A-wimbawae” chord under the aforementioned title Mbube.
Spotting a potential hit, American publishers snatched up the song, used a fake name to keep the royalties for themselves and essentially stole the origins to use in The Lion Sleeps Tonight. What follows from here is a journey of justice and redemption, as Malan documents the legal case which resulted in Disney getting involved and things becoming pretty tense and hostile.
With the usual blend of archival footage and face to face interviews, ReMastered continues to deliver thought provoking and insightful documentaries with The Lion’s Share being one of the strongest in the series. At a little under 90 minutes, this is one of the longest in the series but also one of the most impactful too. Seeing the legal loopholes and difficulty the family had in gaining recognition for this song is something that pays off at the end, despite a bittersweet tinge added to proceedings.
If you’re a fan of the other documentaries in this series, The Lion’s Share continues to impress, with a decent and absorbing film shedding light on the ugly side of the music business.