Solomon Linda Biography: The Tragic Tale of a Musical Legend

Solomon Popoli Linda, also known as Solomon Ntsele or simply Solomon Linda, was a renowned South African musician, singer, and composer. He is best remembered as the composer of the iconic song “Mbube,” which later gained global fame as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Additionally, Linda’s contributions gave rise to the Mbube style of isicathamiya a cappella, which was later popularized by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Solomon Linda

Born 1909
Pomeroy, Colony of Natal
Died 8 September 1962 (aged 52–53)
Johannesburg, Transvaal, Republic of South Africa
Genres Isicathamiya
Occupation(s) Musician, singer, composer
Labels Gallo Record Company

Early Years

Solomon Popoli Linda was born near Pomeroy, in the labor reserve of Msinga, Umzinyathi District Municipality, Ladysmith, Natal. Growing up in this vibrant cultural landscape, he was deeply immersed in the traditions of amahubo and izingoma zomshado (wedding songs) music. His early exposure to music laid the foundation for his future endeavors.

Linda received his formal education at the Gordon Memorial mission school, where he not only learned about Western musical culture but also actively participated in choir contests. This exposure broadened his musical horizons and nurtured his talent.

In 1931, like many young African men seeking opportunities, Linda ventured to Johannesburg in search of work. There, he found employment in various menial jobs while pursuing his passion for music. Linda’s musical journey took shape when he formed a group called the Evening Birds, comprised of his friends from Pomeroy.


Linda’s breakthrough came in 1939 when, while working at the Gallo Record Company’s Roodepoort plant, he improvised the song “Mbube.” This creation, with its distinctive rhythm and captivating melody, resonated deeply with audiences and became an instant hit. “Mbube” catapulted Linda and the Evening Birds to fame, selling over 100,000 copies in South Africa by 1949.

Despite the song’s immense success, Linda sold the rights to Gallo Record Company for a nominal fee, unaware of its future significance. Nevertheless, “Mbube” established Linda as a pioneering figure in South African music, earning him widespread acclaim.


Solomon Linda’s influence extends far beyond his iconic composition. He introduced several innovations to the isicathamiya style, including the use of multiple bass singers and the incorporation of falsetto main vocals. His group, the Evening Birds, represented a blend of urban sophistication and traditional musical elements, captivating audiences with their distinctive style.

Tragically, Linda’s life was marred by financial struggles, and he passed away in 1962 due to kidney failure. Despite his untimely death, Linda’s musical legacy endures, inspiring generations of artists and listeners alike.

Rediscovery and Lawsuit

In the 2000s, Solomon Linda’s story gained renewed attention, leading to a legal battle over the royalties for “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” derived from “Mbube.” This landmark case highlighted the importance of recognizing Linda’s contribution to the iconic song and securing fair compensation for his descendants.

Solomon Linda’s enduring impact on music serves as a testament to his remarkable talent and creativity. As his compositions continue to resonate with audiences worldwide, his legacy remains immortalized in the annals of musical history.

Illness and death

In 1959, during a performance, Solomon Linda collapsed and was later diagnosed with kidney failure. His family suspected foul play, believing he had been bewitched by his musical rivals. Despite the widespread popularity of his song, Linda passed away impoverished in 1962 due to kidney failure. Shockingly, it took 18 years before a tombstone was finally erected at his gravesite.

In 2000, journalist Rian Malan brought renewed attention to Linda’s story through a feature article in Rolling Stone. Highlighting the song’s immense earnings, particularly from its use in The Lion King, Malan collaborated with filmmaker François Verster on a television documentary titled A Lion’s Trail. This documentary shed light on Linda’s life and legacy, aiming to ensure recognition for his contributions to music.


During his illustrious musical career, Solomon Linda, accompanied by his vocal group The Evening Birds, recorded numerous songs that left an indelible mark on the South African music landscape. Here are some highlights from their discography:


  • Makasani/Mfo Ka Linda
  • Ngqo Ngqongo Vula/Ngi Boni Sebeni


  • Ntombi Ngangiyeshela (recorded c. 1938)/Hamba Pepa Lami
  • Yetulisigqoko
  • Mbube/Ngi Hambile (recorded c. 1938)
  • Sangena Mama/Sohlangana
  • Sengiyofela Pesheya/Ziyekele Mama


  • Jerusalema (recorded c. 1940)/Basibizalonkizwe
  • Sigonde ‘Mnambiti (recorded c. 1939)/Bhamporo


  • Ngazula Emagumeni (recorded c. 1941)/Gijima Mfana
  • Ndaba Zika Linda/Ngiyomutshel’Ubaba

This selection represents only a fraction of Solomon Linda’s extensive musical repertoire.

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