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August 31, 2011

Please note, my UKULELE BASICS DVD now available for purchase.  For more information email

From Wikipedia: “The Lion Sleeps Tonight“, also known as “Wimoweh” and originally as “Mbube” is a song recorded by Solomon Linda and his group The Evening Birds for the South African Gallo Record Company in 1939. It was covered internationally by many 1950s pop and folk revival artists, including The Weavers, Jimmy Dorsey, Yma Sumac, Miriam Makeba, and The Kingston Trio. In 1961, it became a number one hit in the U.S. as adapted by the doo-wop group The Tokens. It went on to earn at least 15 million US dollars in royalties from covers and film licensing. Then, in the mid-nineties, it became a pop “supernova” (in the words of South African writer Rian Malan) when licensed to Walt Disney for use in the film The Lion King, its spin-off TV series and live musical, prompting a lawsuit on behalf of the impoverished descendants of Solomon Linda. Mbube” wasn’t the most remarkable tune, but there was something terribly compelling about the underlying chant, a dense meshing of low male voices above which Solomon yodelled and howled for two exhilarating minutes, occasionally making it up as he went along. The third take was the great one, but it achieved immortality only in its dying seconds, when Solly took a deep breath, opened his mouth and improvised the melody that the world now associates with these words . . .

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.[1]

My first recollection of this song was when I was a sophomore in High School and the Tokens released their version.  I remember being struck by that incredible falsetto vocal as well as the pure singing sound of that soprano sax solo break.  The TOKENS have done some reunion concerts and below is a YouTube video of a more recent performance.  They haven’t lost any of their brilliance from their early days, in my mind.

The chord progression is so simple. . . G then to C then to G then to D7. . . That’s it.  It makes a perfect song for beginning ukulele players and I’ve used this with my youngest children in my ukulele program at my school.  As you may know there are primarily 2 ways to typically play the D7 . . . One is  2 0 2 0 . . . the other is to barre the second fret, all 4 strings and place the middle finger on the third fret of the first string.  Whichever works for you is perfect.  In my performance I play the former one 2 0 2 0.  I’m using the swing shuffle DOWN UP DOWN UP DOWN UP DOWN UP. . . Enjoy. . . and ‘HAPPY STRUMMING”

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