South African musician Lebo M rose to fame 25 years ago when he worked with Hans Zimmer to create the soundtrack for the original Disney The Lion King in 1994. The vocalist’s iconic Zulu cry is the opening for “Circle of Life,” the now-iconic Elton John-Tim Rice song. Now years later, he has returned to work on the music for the remake of the film.
In a new interview with CNN, the artist revealed his journey throughout the music industry in the US, his exile from apartheid South Africa and how The Lion King changed his life.
He was born Lebohang Morake in Soweto, Johannesburg, he was a musical prodigy without formal training. He was exiled from South Africa in 1979 when he was 16 and went to study music in the US. He later was selected to assemble an African choir for a performance at the Academy Awards, which lead to work on various soundtracks before he met Hans Zimmer, and the two began work on the first The Lion King film.
‘Whether you’re rich or poor, whether you are oppressed or not, your destiny is defined by the decisions you make, that may be yours or other people may implant on you,” he said. “Thankfully, my future was defined by a destiny I had no control of: music,’ he says.
Lebo M said that when he read the original film, he saw Scar as a symbol for apartheid while Mufasa was a liberating figure, like Nelson Mandela. About his iconic battle cry in the beginning of ‘Circle of Life’ he said:
‘I went [in Zulu] “All hail the king; bow down in the presence of the royal family.” It was inspired by a vision or dream that most of us South Africans were visualizing: Nelson Mandela taking the podium to become the first black president…So it’s just a dual story that was happening at the same time — and thankfully the chemistry worked and the magic happened.’
With the remake, Lebo M took a lot of inspiration of what he has learnt since, and from the stage play which he also worked on. The new version of ‘Circle of Life’ has South African artist Lindiwe Mkhize, who starred as Rafiki in the stage play, singing in it. Another song on the soundtrack ‘He Lives in You’ was originally written for the animated film but was cut out but was performed on stage. He also contributed to the Beyoncé song, ‘Spirit’ which just released a stellar video
With Moonchild Sanelly and Busiswa
featuring on Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift
album, we can’t help but swell up with pride at the reach of SA’s talent.