Monday, April 30, 2012
Friday, April 27, 2012
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Vladimir Katriuk, at his honeybee farm in Ormstown, Que., on Wednesday is alleged to be one of the world's most-wanted Nazi war criminals.Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS
ORMSTOWN, QUE.—Propped up by a shovel that acts as his cane, Vladimir Katriuk putters about his wooded lot in rural Quebec, caring for his bees and appearing to have few worries other than this season's honey yield.
But a prominent Jewish human-rights organization insists there's much more to the cordial 91-year-old beekeeper — whom they allege is of the world's most-wanted Nazi war criminals.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center recently ranked Katriuk No. 4 on its Top 10 list of suspected former Nazis, after a new study alleged he was a key participant in a village massacre during World War II.
An academic article alleged that, in 1943, a man with his name lay in wait outside a barn that had been set ablaze, operating a stationary machine gun and firing on civilians as they tried to escape. The same article said the man took a watch, bracelet and gun from the body of a woman found nearby.
Katriuk spoke with The Canadian Press this week at his small farm in Ormstown, just under an hour's drive from Montreal.
He has denied any involvement in war crimes in the past. This week he repeatedly refused to discuss anything about himself — other than his passion: the honey bees.
"I have nothing to say," Katriuk said of the accusations, after putting down a beekeeper's smoker and replacing a mesh veil for a floppy ball cap.
"When we talk about bees, that's different. When we talk about my own affairs, that's something else. I'm sorry."
Asked how he felt about having his name on the list of worst surviving Nazis, Katriuk paused. He reached into a box and pulled out a piece of a beehive: "You see?" he said. "Here they have started to make the royal cell (for a queen bee)."
The otherwise chatty Ukrainian-Canadian, who moved to Canada in 1951, claimed he wasn't aware his name was added to the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list.
When pressed again about the allegations, he replied: "Let people talk."
Katriuk has faced accusations that he was a Nazi collaborator before, but this week Katriuk seemed fixated only on his bees, and their well-being.
Katriuk had an operation on his left knee three years ago and needs another one on his right, so he hobbles while moving between the close to 20 beehives that sit in rows on his land.
Despite the aches, he appears sturdy for his age.
"It's thanks to the bees that I'm still alive and that I can still move around," Katriuk said over the constant background hum of the insects.
Katriuk, who lives in a small house on the property with his wife, has been raising bees since 1959 and he insists he has only been stung a few times.
"I'm not scared of bees," said Katriuk, who sells honey off from his property for about $1.75 per pound. "You have to go softly, you can't agitate them."
A neighbour described Katriuk as a quiet man who keeps to himself in the sparsely populated area, only a few kilometres from the U.S. border.
"He's a quiet guy. I don't think he mixes in the community ever," said the man, who did not want to be named.
The neighbour acknowledged that locals are aware of the allegations about Katriuk, which have made many news headlines over the years.
The Federal Court ruled in 1999 that Katriuk lied about his voluntary service for German authorities during World War II in order to obtain Canadian citizenship.
The court concluded Katriuk had been a member of a Ukrainian battalion implicated in numerous atrocities in Ukraine — including the deaths of thousands of Jews in Belorussia between 1941 and 1944.
But in 2007 the Canadian government overturned an earlier decision to revoke Katriuk's citizenship, due to a lack of evidence.
Groups that have long been calling on the government to strip Katriuk of his citizenship now hope that fresh details published in a recent journal article will help change Ottawa's mind.
The article alleges Katriuk was directly involved in the March 1943 massacre that "annihilated" the German-occupied village of Khatyn in Belorussia, which is now Belarus.
Soldiers allegedly herded villagers into a barn and lit the roof on fire with a torch, according to witness testimony published in the article titled, "The Khatyn Massacre in Belorussia: A Historical Controversy Revisited."
"One witness stated that Volodymyr Katriuk was a particularly active participant in the atrocity: he reportedly lay behind the stationary machine gun, firing rounds on anyone attempting to escape the flames," said the article, authored by Lund University historian Per Anders Rudling.
Rudling, whose research was published in the spring 2012 issue of Holocaust Genocide Studies, attributed these details to KGB interrogations released for the first time in 2008.
After these new allegations surfaced, B'nai Brith Canada urged the Canadian government in a letter to reconsider its position on Katriuk.
David Matas, the organization's senior legal counsel, said Katriuk's case could also be raised Thursday with Stephen Harper during a scheduled B'nai Brith meeting with the prime minister.
Before the meeting with Harper, Matas said Canada's history in dealing with suspected war criminals has been "bleak."
"It was easier after (World War II) to get into Canada if you were a Nazi war criminal, than if you were a Jewish refugee," Matas said.
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the Harper government "remains committed to identifying and removing people involved in war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide from Canada, including revisiting new evidence on previously examined cases."
Ana Curic also said Kenney had "a fruitful discussion" with Holocaust survivors earlier this week, reassuring them that the government remains committed to the Katriuk case.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center's so-called "Chief Nazi-Hunter" alleges the new "hard evidence" in Rudling's article will change everything in Katriuk's case.
Efraim Zuroff, co-ordinator of the organization's Nazi war crimes research project, said the most-wanted list also includes another Canadian: Helmut Oberlander, who's ranked at No. 10.
Oberlander's case is also in limbo, the group says.
Zuroff said the biggest problem in bringing suspected Nazis to justice is not finding them or the evidence — but a lack of political will in many countries to see that they're prosecuted.
"What's the chance of a 90-year-old Nazi war criminal committing murder again? Zero," Zuroff said in a phone interview from the Jerusalem area.
"All they have to do is wait it out. People are going to die soon anyway and they'll spare themselves the expense, the embarrassment and the problems — logistically or whatever — of prosecuting one of their own (citizens)."
Katriuk thought his own time was up last fall, when an ulcer burst in his stomach.
"I was almost finished," said Katriuk.
He added that he received five litres of blood during his two-week stay in hospital.
He hinted that one day he might tell his story — but he didn't say when.
"When it's time to talk, I will talk," he said. "Right now is not the time for me to talk."
Now with more than 50,000 readers around the world,
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Her name is Shama, meaning "candle", and she says her husband burnt her flesh as if it was a candlewick.
The young mother of four has just joined the ranks of Pakistani women doused in acid. She is scarred for life, with burns on 15% of her body. Her crime was her beauty.
"My husband and I often had arguments in the house," she said, in her hospital bed. "On that day before going to sleep he said 'you take too much pride in your beauty'. Then in the middle of the night he threw acid on me, and ran away."
When her husband fled, he took her mobile phone with him, so she could not call for help.
Shama shows me a picture taken at a children's party four months ago. It is a snapshot of an attractive young woman, with immaculate make-up, wearing an orange outfit flecked with gold.
Her hair is swept back to reveal dangling earnings. But acid has erased that confident, composed Shama.
"I feel pain at what I was, and what I have become," she said, with tears coursing down her scorched cheeks.
"All the colours have gone from my life. I feel like I'm a living corpse, even worse than a living corpse. I think I have no right to live."
Shama now lies in Ward 10a of the burns unit in Nishtar Hospital in Multan in Pakistan's Punjab province.
It is a monument to neglect. The plaster is peeling off the walls and there is a leaking pipe hanging from the ceiling. When patients need transfusions, their relatives are despatched to buy pints of blood.
But the doctors here are expert at treating women disfigured by acid - they see one or two new victims every week.
At morning rounds they gather at Shama's bed, asking if she is eating, and is keeping her burns covered with cream. They try to relieve her pain, but cannot ease her despair.
"I can't say anything about the future," she says, "maybe I won't be alive. I will try - for my kids - to get back to how I was. I have to work to build a future for them.
"If I can't I'll do what one or two other girls have done.
"They killed themselves."
Fakhra Younis, a former dancing girl in Karachi, was one such woman, who ended her life to escape suffering.
It has been said of Fakhra that she died twice - once when she was drenched in acid 13 years ago, and again when she committed suicide in Italy last month.
Before taking her own life, she had endured almost 40 surgeries.
Supporters say Fakhra had given up hope of getting justice. Her former husband, who comes from a powerful political family, was acquitted of the attack.
He continues to protest his innocence.
Fakhra's death made the headlines here, but activists say many victims are shunned and silenced.
"Only about 10% of cases are getting to court," said Zohra Yusuf, the chair of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission.
"Even in high-profile cases like Fakhra's there are poor prosecutions. Most of the time, victims can't get a case registered by police."
Offenders now face a tougher sentence - between 14 years and life imprisonment - under a law passed last year. But most attackers still get off scott free, according to Marvi Memon, the former MP who sponsored the new law.
"Even if he [the attacker] gets caught, he'll pay police off and he'll get away with it in most parts of Pakistan," she said.
"It's the easiest way to punish a woman. You can just throw acid and destroy her entire life in one second."
Marvi Memon blames a lack of political will to implement the law.
"I want the severest punishment for him," she said. "That would make anyone think a thousand times before committing such a crime.""
"It's very difficult to get the police to co-operate with the women," she said, "because they are under no pressure to do so."
The government admits it needs to do more for acid victims, and says implementing the new law is a major challenge.
"Passing the legislation was a first step," said Shahnaz Wazir Ali, a goverment adviser, "but how do cases get to trial speedily? That's the part we still need to work on. We need to sensitise the police, the lower courts and even the legal community."
Back in Ward 10a, there's a new arrival. A woman named Maqsood is wheeled in, still wearing clothing eaten away by the acid.
Beneath her cream shawl the skin on her face is singed and mottled, and her right eye is sealed shut.
"My son-in-law came in the night, and threw acid on me," Maqsood said "after a small family dispute. He broke in through the roof. There was no power in our area, so we could not catch him."
But he was caught later, and he at least is now in custody.
A plastic surgeon, Dr Bilal Saeed, rushes to assess the new patient. He has treated hundreds of women like Maqsood in recent years. He admits to being depressed by his work.
"On average we do multiple surgical and cosmetic procedures on these patients," he said. "But whatever we do, we are not getting their smile back."
Many commit suicide, according to Dr Saeed, in spite of his best efforts.
He says others are forced to return to the in-laws or husbands who attacked them because of social pressure or money problems.
A few beds away, Shama's children come to visit, crowding around her bed.
She reaches out a burnt arm to stroke their anxious faces, and asks for her youngest, Noor, to be placed on her chest.
"Do pray for Mummy," she tells them, "ask God to make me get better quickly."
Shama's husband remains at large. If he is ever caught she wants acid thrown on his face.
"I want the severest punishment for him," she said. "That would make anyone think a thousand times before committing such a crime."
As the children prepare to leave, Shama cannot hold back her tears. For their sake, she says she will try to keep going.
But like Fakhra Younis before her, she is not expecting justice.
Photographing Climate Change
Acclaimed photographer James Balog describes his Extreme Ice Survey, a photographic record of arctic and alpine melting
The Extreme Ice Survey, which we refer to as EIS, is a collaborative project involving leading glaciologists, atmospheric scientists and image makers. What we're trying to do is make a visual record, collecting evidence of the changes that are happening to glaciers and ice sheets around the world, and bring that evidence home and show the immediacy and reality of climate change.
This a glacier called the Solheimjökull, which is still sort of a bad English rendition of the word, but it means sun-house glacier in Icelandic. In this picture, I looked at the terminus of a glacier and I thought, "Oh my god. This thing is dying. It's collapsing." You could see it just fading into the river. I made this first triptych in March of 2005 for The New Yorker. And then in October of 2006 I went back and made the second picture from exactly the same place. And you can see the glacier is basically almost vanished. It's in the far background and it's receding up-valley. And that's continued to go on. That glacier is not even in this picture at all anymore. And we don't know how far it will go up the valley before it stops.
This is on the southeastern coast of Iceland where an immense ice field called Vatnajökull dumps all these huge icebergs into the ocean, they float out to sea, and they get pounded in the waves. And on the high tides, these chunks of ice get washed up on the beach, and block, by block, by block, this melting ice is the physical living process of global sea level rise.
This is an image of what we've come to call an ice diamond. As these blocks of glacier that are getting shattered get washed up on the beach, they assume these fantastic, gorgeous shapes. It's just like when you walk through some fantastic museum full of the hope diamond and all these wonderful sapphires, and emeralds, and rubies, and whatever. That's what nature is producing on this beach except that they exist only for this one rising of the tide, and when the tide comes back in again, it's going to carry it away, and then, poof, they're gone, and that glacier is gone with it. So it's a very special, very spiritual, very transitory kind of place where you really feel time and mortality passing.
What is known very clearly, from very, very, very precise satellite measurements that are done is that the Greenland ice sheet is losing a huge amount of ice every single year. In this picture we're out at the end of the fjord of what's called The Ilulissat Glacier. And this one glacier puts more ice into the global ocean than all the other glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere put together. And this is a huge ice island that's broken off from that glacier and is in the process of floating out to sea. The local folklore has it that the iceberg that sank the Titanic came from this glacier, and just by the statistical odds of just how much ice this glacier produces, that quite possibly could be true.
In this image I'm down in a boat looking at these 'bergs and I was just struck by the delicacy of that touch. And internally in the office we refer to this picture as "The Kissing Icebergs" because there is just this illusion that they're gently nuzzling each other here. But I just love the shapes, you know, the lights and the shapes were so magical. And for whatever reason it seems like one of the central pictures of the series.
This feature is called a moulin, M-O-U-L-I-N. And The man who's standing down there is a geologist who was with me when we went out there with a helicopter to photograph these features. These melt water rivers take the melting snow from the surface of the Greenland ice sheet and they collect it into these rivers which flow along until they find some weakness in a crevasse in the ice, and they scour a hole eventually down to the bottom of the ice sheet 3,000 feet below on the bedrock. And there's hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them carrying the melt of Greenland out to sea.
There's thousands of these lakes painted across the surface of the ice. As melt is running off in the spring and summer it pools up in these lakes for a while, and then it'll run off into a channel perhaps or sometimes we've been discovering there will be these crevasses that will open up in the floor of these lakes. And all of a sudden, you'll have a huge lake that'll just, poof, just vanish, just drain right down through the ice in a matter of an hour or two or three or three or four.
When these melt lakes and the Moulins drain down to the bottom of the ice sheet, they're carrying heat down into the bottom of the ice. You know, water is warmer than ice, right? And what is apparently happening is that parts of the base of the sheet that had been frozen are getting thawed out by having this liquid water carrying heat moving past them. So, this is part of a cycle of warming up the ice and speeding up its flow out into the ocean.
SHRINKING GLACIERS WORLDWIDE
The Mer de Glace literally translates as sea of ice. It's a huge glacier in the alps, and the loss of ice has been really dramatic. Just in the past 20 years there's been this vertical deflation of basically 150 feet. That's a lot of ice lost! And in this particular shot you see where a sidewalk is constructed going down the granite wall of the Mer de Glace trough, the drainage that it comes down. Well, at the top of that where the red line is, is where that glacier was 20 years ago. And they had built a sidewalk so that tourists could walk out on the surface of the glacier. And as it drained down they had to keep building that sidewalk ever more downward so that people could still reach the glacier. So in its own strange way, these little sidewalk layers are like tree rings marking the old position of the glacier as it was shrinking. And in the yellow circle you can see person standing on one of those landings to give you a ittle bit of the sense of scale.
That's at the Columbia Glacier in Alaska. What I've done in this picture is something that no intelligent, self-respecting photographer would ever do and that is to put a cheesy illustration over his shot. But anyway, it's useful for trying to tell what's happening. At the top of the Empire State building here you see the high water mark of the glacier in 1984. And ever since then, it's been deflating. And the amount of ice that's lost is equivalent to the height of the Empire State Building. And if you've ever stood on 34th Street in New York and looked up at the top of that building, that is a long way up. So you can start to get a little sense for how much ice has disappeared.
Chacaltaya is in the Bolivian Andes outside La Paz. And this site was the site of the world's highest ski area originally. That summit is 17,200 feet, and the entire scene here was covered with a glacier in 1940. Now that glacier is all but vanished. In August of 2008, the glacier and had shrunken down to one last little scrap that's about six or seven feet high. And we expect that last little dwindling scrap of the glacier to be gone either next summer or the summer before, and poof, there will be no more Chacaltaya Glacier.
This material is obviously a snapshot. It's a short-term snapshot of something that has been going on for a long time. Ever since there have been glaciers there have been retreating glaciers. But the big, big, big, big difference right now is that these glaciers are retreating at much faster rates than glaciers have in the known geologic past and it's very well-documented that the retreat rates have sped up significantly since the mid-1970s almost everywhere.
There's a tremendous amount of confusion in this society about what's going on with climate change. People have heard so many stories that a lot of people are sort of giving up and saying, "It's all just natural variation." I'm here to tell you it is not natural variation. And that is very, very, very well-documented in the scientific record.
And through these pictures, and through the EIS, and through what you're doing with books, and films, and TV shows, we can get the story out there in a way that we can't if we simply publish professional papers and speak to the specialists in the field. So I think science and art both have something to say to the public about what's going on. And that's what motivates me; I think with these tools we have a mechanism for telling the truth and bringing the evidence to the public.
This is the Columbia Glacier in Alaska and it's retreated over a 11 miles since the mid-1980s. And here you can see where it was in June, then in May, then in October of 2007. And then we begin our time-lapse and you can see the glacier flowing in from the right at the same time the terminus is retreating pulling back up the valley. And even in the winter time the glacier is for the most part retreating. Then it eventually catches up to itself, starts to advance for the summer. And, you know, you really have to look at this 10 or 15 times and watch all the amazing little details. These crevasses form on the right side, and all of a sudden a huge ice island will break off. But then by the time we got to June the glacier had retreated so far it was almost back out of the frame again.
So we pivoted the camera and then turned it back on and watched it rolling down the valley again. This glacier is—I would bet the cost of my daughter's college education on the fact that this glacier will retreat out of this frame within a year and a half maximum. And over the next 10 to 15 years it will retreat another 5 or 6 miles up to the right before it finally gets grounded back on land and stops retreating. And so eventually, at the end of this, we pull back so you can see the cycle of what's happened just in the past few years at the Columbia Glacier. The total retreat in the few years is one and quarter miles, and the retreat in that period has been equivalent to 165 school buses lined up nose to tail. It's a long distance.
An acclaimed photographer teams up with scientists to document the runaway melting of arctic glaciers.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Guy Turcotte has been declared not criminally responsible for killing his two children. The verdict came after the jury had deliberated for five-and-a-half days. We'll have more on this between 3-6
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Mbube: Linda's Lion sleeps at last
This is a story about numbers: 10 shillings, US$15-million, 70 years, over 160 covers and three centuries of continuous radio air play. It's the story of a song we all know, the impoverished Zulu migrant worker who wrote it, the musicians and record companies who raked in millions for it, and the almost 70 years it has taken for his family to see justice done.
The song is Mbube, produced by Zulu musician Solomon Linda in 1939. It's estimated that Linda received a total of 10 shillings for the song. Yet the tune went on to become Pete Seeger's runaway hit Wimoweh, then the Tokens' The Lion Sleeps Tonight, on to at least 160 covers, before ending up in the voices of Timon and Pumbaa, the meerkat and warthog characters in Disney's classic movie and Broadway hit The Lion King.
- Listen to all three original songs on the Friday Fishwrap blog archive.
Along the way, it is said to have earned some US$15-million (R90-million) in royalties - but not for Linda. The musician died in 1962 with less than R100 in his bank account. His widow couldn't afford a headstone for his grave.
Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds in 1941. From left, Solomon Linda (soprano), Gilbert Madondo (alto), Boy Sibiya (tenor), Samuel Mlangeni (bass) and Owen Skakane (bass). (Image: The International Library of African Music at Rhodes University and Veit Erlmann )
In February 2006, Linda's legacy finally received some justice. After a six-year battle his surviving daughters Delphi, Elizabeth and Fildah, who had claimed almost R10-million from copyright holder Abilene Music, settled their dispute for an undisclosed sum. The settlement involves back payment of royalties to the family and the right to receive future payments for worldwide use.
The basis for the family's case was the Dickens Provision, which stipulates that 25 years after a creator's death, all rights should revert to the heirs, who would then be entitled to renegotiate deals and secure better royalty terms.
The Dickens Provision was inserted into the Copyright Act of Great Britain - and its former colonies - in the early 20th century after outrage that the works of Charles Dickens were generating huge profits for publishing companies while his family was destitute.
Enter Rolling Stone
"The settlement came about as a result of pressure from various sectors of society, both in South Africa and overseas," family lawyer Hanro Friedrich told Business Day at the time of the settlement.
It's unlikely that this pressure would have come to bear if it hadn't been for Rian Malan, South African journalist and author of the bestselling My Traitor's Heart.
In 2000 Malan delved deep into the story of Solomon Linda and his remarkable song for Rolling Stone magazine, producing a four-part expose that brought world attention to the song and the injustice done to Linda and his family.
It was Malan who, after consulting widely with experts on music copyright, came up with the $15-million royalties estimate.
- Read the full text of Malan's Rolling Stone feature on the 3rd Ear Music website.
"It is the most famous melody ever to emerge from Africa," Malan says of Mbube, "a tune that has penetrated so deep into the human consciousness over so many generations that one can truly say, here is a song the whole world knows.
"[I]t mutated into a truly immortal pop epiphany that soared to the top of the charts here and then everywhere, again and again, returning every decade or so under different names and guises.
"Navajo Indians sing it at pow-wows. Japanese teenagers know it as TK … It has been recorded by artists as diverse as REM and Glen Campbell, Brian Eno and Chet Atkins, the Nylons and schlockmeister Bert Kaempfert. The New Zealand army band turned it into a march. England's 1986 World Cup soccer squad turned it into a joke. Hollywood put it in Ace Ventura Pet Detective.
"It has logged nearly three centuries of continuous radio air play in the US alone."
Syncopated Zulu music in Msinga
Solomon Linda grew up in the Msinga in the heartland of rural Zululand. A typical rural kid of the time, he herded cattle and attended the Gordon Memorial mission school. But he was also strongly influenced by the new syncopated music that had swept across South Africa from the US since the 1880s, working it into the Zulu songs he and his friends sang at weddings and feasts.
In the 1930s Linda joined the stream of young African men who left their homesteads to find menial work in Johannesburg, a sprawling gold-mining town hungry for cheap labour.
"Life is initially very perplexing," Malan says. "Solly keeps his eyes open and transmutes what he sees into songs that he and his home boys perform a capella on weekends.
"He has songs about work, songs about crime, songs about how banks rob you by giving you paper in exchange for real money, songs about how rudely the whites treat you when you go to get your pass stamped. People like the music."
How much was ten shillings?
Linda's popularity grew, and in 1938 he and his band the Evening Birds - "a very cool urban act that wears pinstriped suits, bowler hats and dandy two-tone shoes" - were spotted by a talent scout. They were taken to sub-Saharan Africa's only recording studio - owned by Italian Eric Gallo, the founder of Gallo Records - to cut a number of songs.
Visited by angels
In 1939, during the band's second recording session, Linda was "visited by angels", Malan says. He opened his mouth and produced a three-chord song with lyrics something like "Lion! Ha! You're a lion!", inspired by boyhood memories of chasing lions stalking the family cattle. The song was called Mbube, Zulu for "lion".
"The third take was the great one," Malan writes of that recording session, "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."
At the time, payment for record deals was primitive. Unknown acts signed no contracts and received no royalties. They were given what the record company determined their work was worth and that was it. Malan estimates that Linda was paid about 10 shillings for the song. All the subsequent income Mbube derived - in its first incarnation - went straight into the pockets of Eric Gallo.
The song did pretty well for itself. Released on 10-inch 78rpm records, it went on sale as Hitler invaded Poland, and slowly picked up a sizeable following. By 1948 Mbube had sold some 100 000 copies in South Africa, requiring so many pressings that the master eventually disintegrated.
Solomon Linda became a local superstar in the world of Zulu migrants. "He was the Elvis Presley of his time and place," Malan says, "a shy, gangly 30-year-old, so tall that he had to stoop as he passed through doorways." Working at a menial job in Gallo's packing plant, he continued to perform until he collapsed on stage in 1959, struck down by kidney disease. He grew so sick he had to stop performing, and died on 8 October 1962 aged 53.
The proto-hippie and Senator McCarthy
At the time of Linda's death, his song had already made it to the top of the US charts in two different incarnations: Wimoweh by Pete Seeger, and The Lion Sleeps Tonight by the Tokens.
But how did Mbube make it from the obscure black urban ghettoes of South Africa to the ears of hip American youth? The story goes that Pete Seeger's friend Alan Lomax, the father of world music, rescued a package of 78 records brought from Africa that were about to be thrown away, thinking "God, Pete's the man for these."
Pete Seeger, the son of wealthy New York radicals, was "a proto-hippie", Malan says - "save that he didn't smoke reefer or even drink beer". He was a socialist, a pacifist - until Hitler invaded Russia - and a folk musician who sang songs championing the common people. When Lomax brought him the records Seeger put the one with Mbube on the label on his old Victrola. "Golly," he said. "I can sing that."
"He was fascinated," Malan writes. "There was something catchy about the underlying chant, and that wild, skirling falsetto was amazing."
Seeger transcribed the song, but of course he couldn't understand the Zulu coming from the hissing disk. So Linda's line uyimbube - Zulu for "you're the lion" and roughly pronounced "oo-yim-boo-beh" - came out the end of Seeger's pen as "wimoweh".
Wimoweh was recorded in 1951 by Seeger and his band the Weavers, in a version faithful to the Zulu original - apart from the lyrics, of course. "The true test lay in the singing," Malan says, "and here Seeger passed with flying colours, bawling and howling his heart out, tearing his vocal chords so badly that by the time he reached 75 he was almost mute."
Wimoweh was a hit, named a pick of the week by Billboard and reaching number six on the charts. Variety called it "terrific!" Seeger himself said it became "just about my favourite song to sing over the next 40 years".
But this was the era of McCarthy witch hunts, and Seeger's politics made him an inevitable quarry of the commie-chasing House Un-American Affairs Committee. In Febuary 1952, just as Wimoweh made its chart debut, a former trade union colleague of Seeger's named Harvey Matusow denounced the musician to the committee.
In "one of the looniest tales of the entire McCarthy era", Malan says, Matusow testified that communists were "preying on the sexual weakness of American youth". And he was willing to give names - one of which was Seeger.
The public reaction was immediate. The press went wild, Weavers' shows and television appearances were cancelled, radio stations banned their records and Wimoweh tumbled off the charts.
Eating lions with the Tokens
But Solomon Linda's song was too good to disappear. Throughout the 1950s it steadily accumulated covers - one by jazz legend Jimmy Dorsey - until pretty much everyone in the US knew the basic tune. Including up-and-coming Brooklyn boy-band the Tokens, who had secured a record deal with RCS Victor.
According to Malan they had been told by "some joker" at the South African consulate that the song was a Zulu hunting song with lyrics that translated as, "Hush, hush. If everyone's quiet, we'll have lion meat to eat tonight." That wouldn't work for a boy-band song, so the record company gave it to Juilliard-trained George Weiss for a rework.
Weiss "dismantled the song, excised all the hollering and screaming, and put the rest back together in a new way," Malan writes. "The chant remained unchanged, but the melody - Solomon Linda's miracle melody - moved to centre stage, becoming the tune itself, to which the new words were sung: 'In the jungle, the mighty jungle …
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight was a reworking of Wimoweh, which was a copy of Mbube. Solomon Linda was buried under several layers of pop-rock stylings, but you could still see him beneath the new song's slick surface, like a mastodon entombed in a block of clear ice."
There wasn't a lot of enthusiasm for the song, and it was released as the B side of a mundane song called Tina, which went nowhere. But The Lion Sleeps Tonight was a hit, reaching number one in November 1961, and is the only song for which the Tokens are remembered.
From that moment, there was no stopping Mbube. By April 1962 it was topping the charts all over the world. South African exile Miriam Makeba sang it at John F Kennedy's last birthday party. Apollo astronauts listened to it at Cape Canaveral.
"It was covered by the Springfields, the Spinners, the Tremeloes and Glen Campbell," Malan writes. "In 1972 it returned to the charts … in a version by Robert John. Brian Eno recorded it in 1975. In 1982 it was back at number one in the UK, this time performed by Tight Fit.
"REM did it, as did the Nylons and They Might Be Giants. Manu Dibango did a twist version. Some Germans turned it into heavy metal. A sample cropped up on a rap epic titled "Mash up da Nation". Disney used the song in "The Lion King …
"It's more than sixty years old, and still it's everywhere."
Show me the money
Mbube is now edging towards the 70-year-old mark, and only now is Solomon Linda's family seeing any real financial benefit. But how much has it earned over all those years, all those covers, for other people?
"I put the question to lawyers around the world, and they scratched their heads," Malan says. "Around 160 recordings of three versions? Thirteen movies? Half a dozen TV commercials and a hit play? Number Seven on Val Pak's semi-authoritative ranking of the most-beloved golden oldies, and ceaseless radio airplay in every corner of the planet?
"It was impossible to accurately calculate, to be sure, but no one blanched at $15 million. Some said 10, some said 20, but most felt that $15 million was in the ball park."
It's unlikely that Solomon Linda's daughters will be seeing anything like that, but at least some justice has now been done. The court settlement means they will be able to escape the dire poverty under which the family has lived since their father's death. The money will go into a trust, to be administered by SA Music Rights CEO Nick Motsatsi.
Linda wasn't bitter that his song brought success to others. "He was happy," his daughter Fildah told Malan. "He didn't know he was supposed to get something."
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Folk musician and 'proto-hippie' Pete Seeger, who in 1952 produced Wimoweh, the second version of Mbube, and introduced Linda's song to the rest of the world (Image: 3rd Ear Music)
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Angelina Jolie, the Oscar winning actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, holds a mentally disturbed boy, as he is tied with a rope in a camp in Oure Cassoni, Chad, 2007. Angelina Jolie met the 7 year-old boy while spending two days visiting Oure Cassoni, a refugee camp close to the Sudan border. Almost 27,000 refugees lives there and it was opened in 2004.