1001 Songs Challenge,  1930s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #19: Mbube (1939)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be… legendary!


Solomon Linda & The Evening Birds – Mbube (1939)

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

” The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is a song originally written and recorded by Solomon Linda under the title ” Mbube” for the South African Gallo Record Company in 1939. Linda’s original was written in Zulu, while the English version’s lyrics were written by George David Weiss.

Lyrics (via Genius)
Learn more about this song (via Genius)


We seem to have spent a lot of time in the US but for our final song from the 1930s we charter a plane and fly across the Atlantic Ocean into South Africa. Mbube by Solomon Linda & The Evening Birds is a song tinged with great sadness for its influence would lead to a later version known by millions, one that made $15 million from its use in a Disney film, and with it came significant success and profits that Solomon Linda and his family, sadly, saw very little of.

The original song was sung in Zulu with Mbube meaning “lion”. The song itself, unsurprisingly talks of an unnamed individual as being a lion and how they bring good luck, somewhat ironic given the fortune Solomon Linda missed out on. The song would later be reworked with an English version becoming The Lion Sleeps Tonight which many artists would cover and a lot of profit would be made with very little being allocated to Linda. In recent years after an article and documentary about The Lion Sleeps Tonight having its origins in South Africa with Solomon Linda, a settlement was finally agreed with Linda’s estate and credit finally given to him.

This is a brief song but an immersive one at that. As with other songs on the list my ignorance in only knowing one language meant I had to seek out a translation to fully appreciate the song. That said, it was hard not to get lost in the Zulu chants and it was fascinating to hear of what the song would later become. Mbube brought Solomon Linda some fame in South Africa but the worldwide recognition he deserved was not to be, or at least not until long after his death in 1962.


Favourite song so far:

Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit (1939)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.


  • Pat Conolly

    There have been pretty good versions of the song by other people – two notable ones being Eva Cassidy and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

  • Pat Conolly

    Very strange – I entered my comment in response to “Over the Rainbow”; how did it wind up under “Mbube”?

    • All is Ephemeral

      I’m not sure, Pat. I haven’t moved anything – I’m not sure how I could even do that! Thanks for letting me know, though!

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