Networked_Music_Review

Net_Music_Weekly: Song of Solomon

sos_1.jpg[Image: Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds, ca. 1941] Song of Solomon — by Ralph Borland and Julian Jonker — is an aleatoric audio collage and 8-channel installation that samples many versions of Mbube, aka Wimoweh aka The Lion Sleeps Tonight, in a sonic tribute to the song’s dead author Solomon Linda. By fragmenting and reordering compositional fragments of this ‘song of songs’, the installation questions the assumptions about compositional innovation and imitation that inform Western intellectual property law. In this jungle of sounds, the dead Author rests.

In 1939, the Evening Birds recorded Solomon Linda’s Mbube in Johannesburg, South Africa for ten shillings. It was a hit for years, selling as many as 100 000 copies. Ten years after its release, Pete Seeger made a recording of the song as Wimoweh, which went to number 6 on the charts. Then, in 1961, songwriter George David Weiss added ten words and a new arrangement, and the song was reborn once again as The Lion Sleeps Tonight. The song also became, to a large extent, Weiss’ intellectual property. Solomon Linda died a pauper in 1962, and his struggling daughters received none of the almost $15 million that the song is estimated to have generated in its career. It was only in 2006 that Weiss’ publisher agreed, under threat of legal suit, to pay royalties to Linda’s estate.

This narrative of the lineage of Mbube / Wimoweh / A Lion Sleeps Tonight, with its focus on originality, ownership and theft, is framed by the international discourse of intellectual property law that emanates from the global North. This framework privileges stories of individual authorship and original genius, obscuring other, more complex stories of collective authorship, cultural flow and genre formation. Indeed, ‘mbube’, which is both the name of a song and the name of a generic style of performance, participates in complex lineages of cultural flow across the Black Atlantic, such as the importation to South Africa of African-American practices of jubilee singing and minstrels by Orpheus MacAdoo in the 1890’s.

sos_2.jpgFor Song of Solomon, Jonker and Borland drew on the estimated 400 recorded versions of Mbube / Wimoweh / A Lion Sleeps Tonight, as well as other examples of the mbube genre and older ancestral forms. ‘Morpheus’, a custom-built software application, samples these musical texts, continually arranging and rearranging ‘original’ and ‘imitated’ compositional elements across the installation space.

Read more about the project on Borland’s website.


Mar 18, 2008
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