Friday, May 02, 2008

In the jungle, the mighty jungle . . .

I was going to do a post about "Protest Music", and why some complain that we don't have any today. Thing is, we do, it's just not all soft and pretty like Peter, Paul & Mary presenting Dylan to America:

And the further thing is, protest music exists today, and some is is pretty intense:

But as someone famous once said, that's not important right now.

During the folk music boom of the '50s, which mainstream America discovered eventually during the '60s, one of the leading groups doing 'folk' was The Weavers:
The Weavers were an influential American folk music quartet based in the Greenwich Village area of New York City. They sang traditional folk songs from around the world, as well as blues, gospel music, children's songs, labor songs and American ballads, selling millions of records at the height of their popularity. They inspired the commercial "folk boom" that followed them in the 1950s and 1960s, including such acts as The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary.

The Weavers group was formed in November 1948 by Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman and Pete Seeger. The name came from an 1892 drama of the same name by Gerhart Hauptmann. After a period of being unable to find much paid work, they finally landed a steady engagement at the Village Vanguard jazz club. This led to their discovery by arranger-bandleader Gordon Jenkins and their signing with Decca Records. The group had a big hit in 1949 with Leadbelly's Goodnight Irene, backed with the 1941 Israeli song Tzena, Tzena, Tzena. In keeping with the commercial taste of the time, these and other early Weavers releases had violins and orchestration added behind the group's own guitars and folk instruments.

The Weavers' records and concerts helped popularize many of the songs now considered standards in the folk repertoire, including "On Top of Old Smoky" (with guest vocalist Terry Gilkyson), "Follow the Drinking Gourd," "Kisses Sweeter than Wine," "The Wreck of the John B (aka "Sloop John B")," "Rock Island Line," "The Midnight Special," "Pay Me My Money Down," and "Darling Corey." The Weavers encouraged sing-alongs in their concerts, and Seeger would sometimes shout out the lyrics in advance of each line.

Trouble started for theWeavers when they did 'protest songs' and songs supporting unions. Even though a greater number of workers in the '50s and '60s were in unions than today, there were still Right-wing forces who equated unions with Communists. Because workers shouldn't have the right to collective bargaining, they should just find a different job. Please follow the link above to read more about The Weavers, and how they got blacklisted in the '50s, due to the rabid Right-wing anti-communist mentality of the times, epitomized by Joseph McCarthy.

A song popularized by The Weavers was called "Wimoweh", and its history is pretty amazing:
"Mbube" (Zulu for "lion") was first recorded by its writer, Solomon Linda, and his group, The Evening Birds, in 1939. Gallo Record Company paid Linda a single fee for the recording and no royalties. "Mbube" became a hit throughout South Africa and sold about 100,000 copies during the 1940s. The song became so popular that Mbube lent its name to a style of African a cappella music, though the style has since been mostly replaced by isicathamiya (a softer version).

Alan Lomax brought the song to the attention of Pete Seeger of the folk group The Weavers. It was on one of several records Lomax loaned to Seeger.[1] After having performed the song for at least a year in their concerts, in November, 1951, they recorded their version entitled "Wimoweh", a mishearing of the original song's chorus of 'uyimbube' (meaning "you're a lion"). Pete Seeger had made some of his own additions to the melody. The song was credited exclusively to Paul Campbell (Campbell being a pseudonym for the four members of the group: Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman, Ronnie Gilbert, and Pete Seeger). Linda's name was unknown at the time, to a point where he did not receive credit even on his own original release of the song, "Mbube". Solomon Linda would not receive actual credit until years later, one of the earliest being Miriam Makeba's 1960 version of "Mbube" (credited to "J. Linda") when she came to the US and performed the song live at Webster Hall in New York City, accompanied by the Chad Mitchell Trio, released on her debut album on RCA Victor. (Note that on many CD releases of early versions, credits were updated to include Linda as the original song's composer, including the Weavers and the Kingston Trio versions.)

Again, follow the link to the Wikipedia about "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" above to read the rest of this song's history.

Here's the original recording of Mbube:

Here are The Weavers singing their lovely but misinterpreted version:

And here's the much more familiar version by The Tokens:

Here's a link to a PBS show about Solomon linda, with an interesting timeline: