I’ve spent the morning listening to African music.
This started as a totally different blog idea. I was thinking about folk songs, and his led me to thoughts about The Tokens. I knew they originally did a song that was much older, called Mbube.
The sterile, white version of the lyrics sounds a lot like Lion King: all jungly and sleepy, like a fairy tale or an anansi story. The real version is a protest song, telling listeners “Uyimbube” (You are a lion), and to remain asleep until the lion king Shaka returns and evicts the whites from Africa. “Uyimbube” was misunderstood by Pete Seeger, and this was corrupted to the more familiar “a-wimoweh” that we’ve all heard.
What astonished me was the sheer variety of these pieces. They are all similar, in that there is a background chant, and the melody is more-or-less the same in each version. But I urge readers to click on each link, and hear how the artists take the song in a different direction… To the underscored threat of Solomon Linda’s, to the upbeat swing sounds of Pete Seeger, to the deep mourning of Miriam Makeba. Listen to them. You’ll be amazed how much can be done with a single song.
Solomon Linda was the writer and original performer of this song 1920s, then recorded in 1939. Eventually, the song was Recorded by Pete Seeger and The Weavers in 1951. This isn’t the Pete Seeger I know. This is quite ironically a big band piece. Of course, The doo-wop version by the Tokens is the famous one, that we all heard. I was surprised how much it sounds like the original (Solomon Linda) version. My favorite is this beautiful version sung by Miriam Makeba (known popularly as Mama Africa). Her voice is like honey. And finally, another version by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who, for obvious reasons, sounds like Paul Simon should be singing lead. Not that he could pull it off…
This got me thinking about Miriam, who died a couple years ago. Here is a bonus track, because I love it.
Here, I found a beautiful song, and a very interesting interview with Miriam Makeba. If you ever wanted to know what the big deal was about Apartheid. Miriam’s South African passport was revoked in 1960.
Nothing more on this chilly (soon to be rainy) April morning. Enjoy the music clips. Try to behave yourselves and all.